Anyone want to join us at Scotty’s downtown Carmel for the Tues Liverpool game?
Thought I would post another blog for the huge Champions League and Europa League games this week on Tues/Wed & Thurs. For those who don’t know European League soccer – Champions League is a competition that matches the 32 top club teams in the European Leagues (England EPL, Spanish La Liga (think Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Mardrid), Germany Bundesliga (think Bayern Munich, Dortmund), Italy Serie A (think Juventus, Roma, Napoli, AC or Inter Milan), France Legue 1 (PSG, Monaco), Portugal (Porto), Russia (Zennit), Holland (Ajax) – you get the picture. When we say the best players on the best teams in the world – when you get to the Knock-out stages especially the final 16 – this is where the stars play. Usually these are the teams that spend the most. There is no salary cap in soccer in most countries. So the top teams often outspend most of the other teams – its why Real Madrid has Renaldo, Bale, Marcelo, Ramos – how Bayern Munich basically buys the best players from each team in Germany – Robert Lewandowsky, Thomas Muller, Franck Ribery, Gotze. The teams will play both home and away where the total goals are added up but away goals count more. So if you can score an away goal – on the road – it means more – this makes teams battle to score the vital away goal and not just pack it and play 11 behind the ball (unless you are Man U’s eclectic Jose Mourinho.
So about the Final 4 – Italy’s Roma shocked the world when they came from behind to knock off favorites Barcelona and one of the world’s best players Messi in the last round. After losing 3-1 at Barcelona – Roma needed a 3-0 victory at home to crash the Semi-Final party. And crash is they did – as the player who gave up an own goal @ Barca scored the 3rd and final goal in the last 5 minutes to send Roma thru. Roma will face another surprise team in Liverpool from England. Liverpool is just 2 years in to new German coach (formerly of Dortmund) Juergan Klopp’s rebuild of the once proud franchise which had fallen on tough times landing out of the top 4 over the few years before his appointment. Klopp has installed a high pressing attack with England’s Player of the Year and the world’s leading scorer Mohomad Salah, along with Mane and Fermino leading the attack. This is the Cinderella side of the bracket.
The other final is the powerhouse – think UNC, Kansas, Duke, Michigan State – this features German powerhouse Bayern Munich vs the 2-time defending Champion Real Madrid (they call them the Holders) with the legendary Cristiano Renaldo – (the man who just broke the record for most consecutive games with a goal in the history of Champions League play). Do yourself a favor and tape these games Tues/Wed on Fox Sports 1 or better yet take a late lunch and catch them live. Or at least come home and watch the replays on FS 1 and FS 2. See the full schedule below.
Tues, Apr 24- Champions League
2:45 pm Fox Sport1 Liverpool vs Roma (semi-finals)
Wed, Apr 25- Champions League
2:45 pm Fox Sport1 Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid (semi-finals)
9:30 pm Univision Chivas vs Toronto FC (Finals CCL)
Thur, Apr 26- Europa League
3:05 pm Fox Sport1 Arsenal vs Athletico
3:05 pm Fox Sport2 Olympic Marseille vs Salzburg
Tues, May 1- Champions League
2:45 pm Fox Sport1 Real Madrid vs Bayern Munich (semi-finals)
Wed, May 2- Champions League
2:45 pm Fox Sport1 Roma vs Liverpool (semi-finals)
Thur, May 3- Europa League
3:05 pm Fox Sport1 Athletico vs Arsenal
3:05 pm Fox Sport2 Salzburg vs Olympic Marseille
Liverpool and Roma’s Boston Connections
Liverpool primes for Tough Test in UCL vs Roma
Why Roma’s Semi with Liverpool has Special Significance
Bayern can Beat Real Madrid this time – Mark Lovell ESPNFC
Who Will Win Champions League now at Final 4 – Mirrror
Who’s gonna Win – Video SI – Real vs Bayern
Strikers might Determine the winner tween Bayern & Real say Alonso
Bayern’s Muller says Real vulnerable
Carvajal of Real eyes 3rd Straight UCL Trophy
Real Madrid at Full Strength for Semi
Liverpool vs Roma gives us Romance – Real vs Bayern is Royalty – Simon Evans – Washington Post
Semi’s Rife with Storylines – SI
Battle of Heavyweights Bayern vs Real
Roma vs Liverpool should have Goals – SI
Toronto Resolute in CCL Final vs Chivas
Toronto FC total Concentration on Chivas in CCL Final
Marcotti’s Musings – Napoli stun Juve, Iniesta Inspires Barca, FA Cup – Gab Marcotti ESPNFC
Top Players in the World this Week
Is this the End of Juve’s Italian Dominance after losing to Napoli 1-0 ESPNFC
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah Wins EPL Player of the year
Arsenal Free to Dream of Brighter Future Now – Mick Hornby
Wenger’s Reception at Emirates Shows the Relationship with Fans is Broken
GAMES ON TV
Sat, Apr 28
7:30 am NBCSBN Liverpool vs Stoke Citdy (Cameron)
9:30 am Fox Sport2 Bayern Munich vs Frankfurt
10 am NBCSN Huddersfield Town vs Everton??
12:30 beIN Sport Real Madrid vs Leganes
12:30 NBCSN Swansea vs Chelsea
12:30 Fox Sport 1 Leverkusen vs Stuttgart
7 pm ESPN+ Utube Charlotte vs Indy 11
Sun, Apr 29
9::15 am NBCSN West Ham vs Man City
9:30 am FS1 Mainz vs RB Leipzig
11:30 am NBCSN Manchester United vs Arsenal
12 pm FS2 Werder Bremen vs Borussia Dortmund (Pulisic)
4 pm ESPN Colorado vs Orlando City
6:30 pm YES net NYCFC vs Dallas (Hedges)
9 pm Fox Sports1 LAFC vs Seattle Sounders (opening of LA New Stadium)
Indy 11 vs FC Cincinnati (@ the Luke) discount Tickets here (code -2018indy)
Why Roma’s semifinal with Liverpool has special significance
1:22 PM ETTerry Daley
So it’s come to this. An inconsistent, at times frankly dreary season comes to an unexpectedly thrilling climax, a trip to one of the citadels of European football and a chance to avenge perhaps the most painful night in Roma’s history — one that many say contributed to the tragic end of one of the club’s greatest heroes.On May 30, 1994, Agostino Di Bartolomei, not yet 40, was found dead at his home in the southern town of Castellabate in southern Italy, lying in a pool of blood after a gunshot to the heart with his Smith & Wesson that woke his dozing wife, Marisa. It was 10 years to the day that Roma captain Di Bartolomei had taken to the Stadio Olimpico pitch in front of a frenzied crowd of 70,000, a Serie A champion one step away from winning his boyhood side’s first-ever European Cup. Born and raised in the working-class district of Tor Marancia in South Rome, an area that has long stood in the shadow of its more ornate, tourist-friendly neighbour Garbatella, and which had once been the site of a post-war shanty town so dangerous it was called “Shanghai”, Di Bartolomei wasn’t just captain of Roma, he was the fans’ — and in particular the Curva Suds’ — presence on the pitch. Today, the housing estates that dominate his home area are covered in impressive if somewhat bourgeois “street art”, but among them you can still find murals dedicated to the one they called “Ago”.
He, alongside Bruno Conti, Falcao and Roberto Pruzzo, was one of the stars of probably the most loved Roma team, the winners of the 1983 league title and three Coppa Italias. He scored the penalty that saw Roma come back from a 2-0 first-leg deficit to win the semifinal 3-2 on aggregate, a tie that was subsequently mired in scandal after accusations of second-leg referee Michel Vautrot being bribed £50,000 by Roma, something that then-chairman Dino Viola’s son Riccardo said was true in 2011.Roma lost the final, of course, the capital city of the land of pasta foxed by Bruce Grobbelar’s spaghetti legs and beaten on penalties by Liverpool. That summer, Di Bartolomei left Roma after being ditched by incoming coach Sven-Goran Eriksson and soon after went from hero to villain, celebrating wildly after scoring against his old team for AC Milan.Afterwards, he slipped down the leagues and into obscurity. No one from Roma ever called to offer him a role at the club and after finishing his career he moved south, running a football school that slowly ran out of money until he decided to take his own life. Later, Marisa found a note written by her husband that read: “I feel shut in a hole.”That defeat, and its dark epilogue, adds another layer of significance to this semifinal with Liverpool. Arriving at the 1984 final was the last — the only — time that Roma had ever really made an impact on Europe’s biggest stage, and the thought of drawing the Reds gave fans of a certain vintage flashbacks to that fateful day.One, who now works for the club in a semi-official capacity, had barely digested the incredible victory over Barcelona when this writer suggested Liverpool might be the best draw for the semis.
“Don’t … My heart.”
Roma go into their biggest game in 34 years with a full squad and high spirits, having built on the battering of Barca by maintaining their leading spot in the race for next season’s Champions League. Leading the charge will be Daniele De Rossi, outstanding against the Catalans at the Olimpico alongside Edin Dzeko, who is looking to establish a club record European Cup goals total after equalling the six Pruzzo scored in 1983-84 with his opener a fortnight ago.De Rossi, the latest in a line of captains that goes Di Bartolomei, Conti and Francesco Totti, has always said that his greatest regret would be not to win the league title with Roma. At 34 years old, he’s too young to have seen the ’83 Scudetto and was still a youth team player when Totti fired them to the title in 2001.What if, as his career heads towards what looks like its final year, he was to go one better than the kings of Rome that came before him?
Bayern Munich can beat Real Madrid in Champions League this time: Here’s why
3:38 AM ETMark Lovell
Bayern Munich host Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinal first leg this week, aiming to avenge their painful 6-3 aggregate defeat at last season’s quarterfinal stage.Here are six reasons why the German champions are better placed to reach the final this time around in their quest for a sixth European crown.
Heynckes has united the team
The most obvious change since last time out is the fact Jupp Heynckes has returned to replace Carlo Ancelotti, after the Italian was dismissed the day after Bayern’s 3-0 group stage embarrassment in Paris. For his fourth spell in charge, Heynckes inherited a fractious unit amid high levels of discontent with Ancelotti’s laid-back coaching methods. In 2017 there were cracks and they showed in this season’s campaign as Ancelotti lost the dressing room. But with his supreme man-management skills, Heynckes almost immediately revitalised Sven Ulreich, James Rodriguez, Javi Martinez, Arturo Vidal, David Alaba and the reportedly disgruntled trio of Franck Ribery, Jerome Boateng and Muller.Heading into the business end of the season, this is now a united squad focusing on the treble.It is also easy to forget Heynckes knows how to get the job done in Europe’s top club competition. His Bayern side disposed of Real at the semifinal stage on penalties at the Bernabeu in 2012, and in three previous seasons he has reached the final each time: winning in 1998 with Real and leading the Bavarians to the showpiece event in both 2012 and 2013.While the recent 0-0 against Sevilla broke a record run of 12 consecutive Champions League wins for the 72-year-old, almost 20 years on, Heynckes will no doubt still be smarting from being rewarded with the sack eight days after leading Los Blancos to their seventh European Cup.
Robert Lewandowski is fit and raring to go
Bayern’s main goal threat injured his shoulder ahead of last season’s quarterfinal. Without their prolific striker, an out-of-sorts Thomas Muller was handed a more advanced role but Bayern remained toothless up front and slipped to a meek 2-1 defeat — following 16 successive Champions League home wins — in Munich.Inevitably rushed back from injury for the second leg at the Bernabeu, Lewandowski was largely anonymous in the first half, enjoying only 14 touches of the ball — the fewest of anybody on the pitch. He did convert from the spot — his eighth goal in nine Champions League games — to give Bayern a precious advantage on the night but was forced off with just two minutes left after his injury flared up and could only watch on as Real went on to win in extra-time.Lewandowski has been handled carefully by Heynckes since the end of the winter break, after he initially struggled to shake off a knee injury, and hasn’t started an away Bundesliga fixture all year. Now fit, fresh and firing, the Poland star has notched 39 goals in 43 games this season, including a first half double as 18-time winners Bayern reached their 22nd DFB Pokal final with a 6-2 hammering of Leverkusen on Tuesday.Off the pitch, Lewandowski’s recent switch of agent has led to an inevitable surge in transfer speculation, with Real Madrid most heavily linked. That may mean extra motivation for him in this game.
Missing Manuel Neuer is not the calamity it might seem
After breaking his foot in September, Neuer has been out for most of the season and back-up goalkeeper Ulreich endured a horrible series of lapses under Ancelotti. However, Ulreich has undergone a remarkable transformation under Heynckes and has been key to Bayern’s impressive run of form in three competitions.Normally the absence of the world’s best goalkeeper would be a crushing blow for any side’s Champions League chances but Heynckes immediately backed Ulreich as his No. 1 and has been rewarded.The latest in a long line of matchwinning performances came in the cup on Tuesday with Heynckes hailing his back-up keeper as “exceptional” and a “godsend” after pulling off a host of fine saves to keep Bayern’s slender lead intact in Leverkusen.Last season, Neuer almost single-handedly kept 10-man Bayern in the tie with at least 10 top class saves in Munich, excelling in the return too at the Bernabeu before letting in three goals in extra time.A few weeks into his spell as No. 1, Ulreich told ESPN FC “It wasn’t easy to replace Neuer,” but he has grown in confidence and has been one of Bayern’s standout players this season. He can harbour genuine hopes of going to the World Cup as Germany’s third keeper behind Marc-Andre ter Stegen and the soon-to-be recovered Neuer.
Martinez has impressed as a defensive midfielder
Heynckes’ decision to restore Martinez to defensive midfield has proved another masterstroke.Once Bayern’s record signing at €40 million from Athletic Bilbao in 2012, Martinez had been used predominantly in central defence under predecessors Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola (when fit).He is far from the quickest but his ferocious tackling and ball-winning skills have provided Bayern with great solidity and a robust shield in front of what was a creaking backline. Once again, in similar fashion to the 2013 treble winning season when regularly partnered with Bastian Schweinsteiger, Martinez has become one of the first names on Heynckes’ teamsheet and the unheralded key to their treble hopes.
Boateng and Hummels’ partnership at the back is solid
Last season, Mats Hummels missed the first leg (like Lewandowski) through injury and both of Germany’s 2014 World Cup winning duo were still hampered by injury and far from 100 percent for the return as well. With Martinez suspended, Boateng and Hummels bravely played through the pain barrier as Bayern put up a stirring fight with to take the tie into extra time, but it was not enough.Statistically speaking, if Boateng plays Bayern do not lose. He is the only Bayern regular not to have tasted defeat this season in 29 appearances and did not feature in any of the German champions’ losses to PSG, Leipzig, Hoffenheim and Gladbach.Hummels oozes class and composure alongside the more robust Boateng, while together they represent a reassuring presence at the heart of the Munich backline. Finally fit, Bayern’s rocks at the back have a much better chance of keeping Ronaldo and company quiet this time around.
There should be no red card
One of Heynckes’ biggest coaching beliefs is to do everything in his power not to risk a dismissal in the Champions League. He always, when possible, takes off a player who is walking the red card tightrope and in danger of crossing the line.In last season’s second leg against Real, Vidal went into the referee’s notebook after only five minutes for a clumsy foul on Isco. A red card seemed inevitable the longer the combative Chilean remained on the pitch and he was duly dismissed for a foul on Casemiro in the 84th minute.With Bayern a man down, Cristiano Ronaldo clinically took advantage by adding a couple more goals to seal his hat trick and Ancelotti was heavily criticised postmatch for his blatant oversight on Vidal.Back in October, Heynckes recalled his very first game in charge of the player he calls “my Arturo” at Leverkusen in 2009. “Arturo picked up a yellow card after only two minutes,” Heynckes said. “In the 10th minute, he made another crazy challenge. In the 20th minute, I had to show him the red card myself. I knew from training how impulsive and aggressive he is. You simply must react.”Vidal certainly won’t be getting a red card this time around anyway — he’s been ruled out until the end of the season with a knee injury — but Heynckes will ensure that Bayern aren’t left with a disadvantage again.
Real Madrid vulnerable ahead of Champions League semifinal – Bayern’s Thomas Muller
8:07 AM ETStephan Uersfeld
Bayern Munich captain Thomas Muller has said Real Madrid “are vulnerable” ahead of the Champions League semifinal first leg between the teams in Germany on Wednesday.Having sealed a sixth consecutive Bundesliga title, Bayern are eyeing a second Treble and have lost only two of 36 matches since Jupp Heynckes returned as coach in October.And Muller said they were confident that they could deny Real a third consecutive Champions League trophy. “We’re aware of Madrid’s qualities. We must attack them, must score goals and make use of the weaknesses Real have,” he told reporters after Bayern’s win at Hannover on Saturday.”They lost the second leg against Juventus 3-1, and that means that they are also vulnerable. We’ll go into this match with a lot of confidence.”Bayern were knocked out of the Champions League by Real in both 2013-2014 and last season, but Poland striker Robert Lewandowski told kicker they could beat them this year.”It’s a Champions League semifinal. If you play with fear, you stand no chance,” he said.”You must be convinced that you can beat Real, don’t take it too easy but, in a certain way, remain relaxed.”It was just a different situation last year. I wasn’t fully fit, not at 100 percent, and trudged through it. We were unlucky to crash out.”I don’t care who scores the goal. Our priority is to reach the final.”Winger Arjen Robben, who scored the winner in the 2013 Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund, added: “It wasn’t Lewy [struggling with fitness]. We had many problems last year, especially in Madrid.”We played with a team in which three, four players were at 50 percent. We still fought until the last minute. This year, we are all fit.”Bayern will be without Manuel Neuer, Arturo Vidal and Corentin Tolisso, while left-back David Alaba also faces a race against tim
Real Madrid’s Dani Carvajal targeting third straight Champions League trophy
:38 AM ETPA Sport
Dani Carvajal is confident Real Madrid can make history and become the first team to win the Champions League three years in succession.The Spanish giants became the first side to retain the European title in the Champions League era last season and are now aiming to go one better. Zinedine Zidane’s side face Bayern Munich in the first leg of their semifinal at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday.”Nothing is impossible, we’re going to fight for it,” Carvajal told the club’s website.”We’re working hard and, if we’ve done it twice, why wouldn’t we go for that third consecutive Champions League?”Since I’ve been here, I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to reach the semifinal every year. Every year has something special and this season more so, due the teams we’ve come up against. We’re happy and looking forward to playing the game.”Real Madrid’s record extends to three triumphs in the past four seasons and 12 European titles overall.Last year’s success came after victory over Bayern in the semi-finals.Midfielder Dani Ceballos was not a member of the side then but is hoping history can repeat itself.”This team is used to these matches in the semifinal of the Champions League,” he said.”We’ve also played games against Bayern Munich at this level and we’ve come out on top. We hope that these semifinals are like previous years and we can make it to the final.”
Never-say-die Napoli stun Juve; Iniesta inspires; Mourinho, Conte rewarded
11:04 AM ETGabriele Marcotti
The last title race in a major European league is alive and well and owes a huge debt of gratitude to a 6-foot-5 Franco-Senegalese tower of power (who also has plenty of timing, grit and brains) named Kalidou Koulibaly.On Sunday night, during stoppage time at the end of Juventus vs. Napoli, the center-back rose into the Turin sky to power a header past Gigi Buffon, breaking a scoreless deadlock and giving his team a huge victory that cuts Juventus’ lead at the top of the table to a single point.Napoli had spent much of the previous 89 minutes attacking, as you’d expect from a side for whom a draw was, realistically, no good. Juventus, the Serie A leaders by four points, spent most of the game defending, deep and in numbers. You sensed a familiar verdict, had it not been for that last-ditch goal.The visitors would have been patronized for their willingness to go for it, despite lacking the quality to win away to the six-time defending champions. And the hosts would have been praised for knowing how to win ugly and grind out results. Instead, a single moment changed everything and ought to serve a warning to be less obsessed with results and, instead, pay more attention to what happens on the pitch.Napoli played the way they always do, albeit with less pace of thought and execution and less of a cutting edge in the final third, which may have been down to nerves or to Juve’s deep defending. But Juve, simply put, got too many things wrong and needlessly so. And all the praise they would have received if they had hung on would not have changed that. Max Allegri lost Giorgio Chiellini to injury after 11 minutes and reacted by shifting Benedikt Howedes — making only his third start of the season — into central defence and introducing Stephan Lichtsteiner at right-back.It didn’t help, but it can’t be an alibi for what we saw: a Juve side whose center of gravity was well in their own half. To make matters worse, Paulo Dybala had a horrendous first half, while Douglas Costa’s runs disappeared into blue-shirted cul-de-sacs, meaning Gonzalo Higuain was left alone up front, which goes some way towards explaining why Juve did not manage a single shot on target.This wasn’t a case of organized, counterattacking football. It was poor execution, and it’s tough to believe that this same group beat Real Madrid 3-1 at the Bernabeu earlier this month. Whether Allegri set them up to play like this — he said he didn’t — or whether they just found themselves pushed back, it was a hugely disappointing night.Allegri has spent most of the past two years talking about instilling an attacking identity in this team and taking the game to the opposition as the only way of going to the next level. The fact that Juve still cannot do it consistently, even as they could yet win their seventh Serie A title, ought to be a concern.The good news if you’re a Juventus fan is that Allegri excels in calming the ship and managing his personalities. Momentum may have shifted, and they may have the tougher run-in — with trips to Inter and Roma — but they still control their own destiny. If experience and that “winning mentality” matters for anything, now is the time to show it.As for Napoli, the victory and doggedness shown cannot mask the fact that they have lost a step compared to earlier in the season, possibly because of the lack of depth and the minutes played by key men. Maurizio Sarri isn’t going to change his philosophy but you wonder if, perhaps in certain situations, the more direct approach with Arkadiusz Milik — even at the cost of sacrificing one of the front three — might not serve them better.
Nicola Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images
Napoli’s season must be considered successful
We had a bit of a disagreement — unusual, I know! — on ESPN FC TV last week: I said that whatever happens in the title race, Napoli’s season has been an unqualified success, while the boys in the studio suggested it wouldn’t mean much if they didn’t become champions. I get why folks talk about trophies and silverware, but on three different counts, Napoli have already won, even if they fall short of the scudetto.First, they have played some of the best football in Serie A, if not Europe. Doing that consistently in Italy, while also getting results, is hugely difficult and it’s one of the reasons Serie A has fallen behind other leagues: To be successful on a European level — as Allegri has pointed out — you need to attack and create in the opposition half as a matter of course.Second, Napoli are on pace to finish with more than 90 points which in most years would be more than enough to win the title, and wherever they finish will be one of the highest points totals in history. That shows the style of play wasn’t just entertaining, it works. If Juventus finish with more, well done to them, but it doesn’t change the fact that, statistically, Napoli have delivered one of the most successful seasons ever.Third, the “winning-is-everything” metric might make sense when the playing field is level, but in Serie A, like in most of Europe, it’s not. Napoli have the fifth-highest wage bill, and it is less than half that of Juventus.Finishing second in those circumstances and with one of the five-highest points totals of all time is a success. Period. Don’t be surprised, then, that more than 10,000 Napoli fans showed up at the airport just before 2 a.m. to greet the team charter from Turin. They have plenty to celebrate, even if they do not go on to win the title.
Mourinho, Man United find a way to win
The big guns fired Manchester United into the FA Cup final, with Alexis Sanchez and Paul Pogba each turning in one of their better performances since coming to Old Trafford. But the second-half display by Jose Mourinho’s men was as much about his foot soldiers, including the center-back pairing of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, plus Ander Herrera and others.Football folk — and sportsmen in general — often talk about “killer instinct,” “winning mentality” and getting a team “over the line.” It’s not something you can rationalize or define, and the sample size, in any case, is small, so you’re tempted to dismiss it. However, having seen the reaction in this game after a first half that saw them outplayed by Tottenham — and in the recent Manchester derby — you’re tempted to think there’s something in it.
Mourinho has played 14 cup finals and won 12, with his only two defeats coming in extra time. I’ll leave it to others to determine whether that’s down to coincidence, natural variance or something else, but what is evident is that his teams tend to stay in the game. And when you keep it close and have difference makers to step up, sometimes that’s all it takes.
Assessing Pochettino’s post-match comments
When, in the aftermath of Tottenham’s defeat, Mauricio Pochettino spoke of the club in the third person — “they” rather than “we” — and about how the club “need more time with me or with another” manager, what he said was bound to draw scrutiny.
Some saw a coded message to the owners suggesting more investment was needed: After all, the club’s net spend over the past two seasons has been just over £40 million, which is rather paltry if you buy their line about wanting to compete.I honestly don’t know what was behind it, but if that’s what Pochettino wants to get across, there are more effective ways of doing it. I tend to think it was just because of the disappointment at yet another in-game collapse and, perhaps, a shred of self-doubt and second-guessing.
Iniesta rolls back the years
It wasn’t his final game for Barcelona, nor was it his final big game for Barcelona — there’s a Clasico vs. Real Madrid in less than two weeks — and nor was it his last game with silverware at stake — the Liga title isn’t mathematically sewn up — but Saturday’s Copa del Rey final did come amid talk that Andres Iniesta would be moving on.He walked away with a trophy: No. 31 of his Barcelona career, to go with two European Championships and the World Cup he won with Spain. Not only that, Iniesta turned back the clock in the 5-0 pounding of Sevilla, from the goal he scored from an nonexistent angle to the array of touches, intuition and movement he put together.And the fact that it’s all packaged with his trademark melancholy gait and balding-accountant demeanour makes it all the more memorable. Whatever happens in the next few games — don’t rule out one last masterclass — we can always remember Iniesta like this, with all his essential, understated magnificence.As for the match itself, Sevilla got everything wrong early, and Barca punished them. It was 3-0 at half-time and could have been twice that. From Jordi Alba to Luis Suarez to Philippe Coutinho — what a difference an extra playmaker makes against an opposition’s’ press — pretty much the whole Barca side came to play.
Giroud display vindicates Conte
For a long time, Olivier Giroud was probably the most henpecked man at Arsenal not named Arsene Wenger. There’s something about big center-forwards that invites criticism — Romelu Lukaku and Sandro Wagner are others that come to mind — and Giroud is no different.Given that, you’d have to be pretty hardhearted not to feel pleased for the French international, first at being selected ahead of Alvaro Morata and then when he opened the scoring in Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Southampton in the FA Cup semifinal. Especially given the twinkletoes nature of his goal, something few would have thought Giroud had in his locker.Antonio Conte’s selection decision was vindicated, and if the manager does leave in June, as still appears probable, he’ll do it having won a league title and reached two FA Cup finals in two years. Which is not a bad return, given he inherited a traumatised side that finished 10th the previous season.
Milan’s problems resurface
And suddenly, the bottom has fallen out. Gennaro Gattuso’s remarkable run since taking over as Milan manager has hit a tailspin: They haven’t won in a month and have gone from being five points away from the Champions League places to 13 back after Saturday’s home defeat to Benevento.Given the club’s ownership situation, the imminent threat of financial fair play sanctions and the fact that, in less than six months, a $350 million loan to Elliott Management needs to be repaid or refinanced, they’re not in a good place.That said, there’s no reason to go “Chicken Little” all of a sudden. The truth is that, while the run stoked optimism and showed that there are some very good players at the club, it wasn’t going to move the needle vis-à-vis Milan’s balance sheet. That situation remains critical and won’t change unless owner Li Yonghong suddenly finds the money or they extinguish the Elliott loan with some longer-term financing.
A word on Benevento, too. You struggle to praise a relegated team because you don’t want to sound patronizing, but what they’ve done is remarkable. Having been promoted, they lost their first 14 games before picking up 17 points from their next 20 matches. All the while playing brave, attack-minded football. If you’re going to try and upset the big boys despite scant resources, that’s the way to do it.
Heynckes prioritises Europe …
Bayern Munich warmed up for their Champions League semifinal first leg vs. Real Madrid by beating up Hannover away, 3-0. With the Bundesliga title already in the bag and a place in the German cup final secure, Jupp Heynckes did some tinkering and rotating.
A debut was given to 18-year-old Lars Lukas Mai at center-back, while Niklas Sule pushed further forward. With bigger games ahead, the likes of like Mats Hummels, Robert Lewandowski, Javi Martinez, Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Muller were left out of the starting lineup.
… as does Simeone
Atletico Madrid’s home draw with Betis effectively confirmed what we already know: The title is going to the Camp Nou. What’s interesting is that Diego Simeone didn’t even put up much of a fight, resting the likes of Diego Godin, Antoine Griezmann and Koke with an eye towards Thursday’s Europa League semifinal first leg with Arsenal. It was the rational decision: Live to fight another day. An Atleti win would still have left Barca nine points clear with a game in hand. Kudos must go to Betis, though, and manager Quique Setien — not so much for Sunday, but for what they’ve done in the second half of the season, in which they have risen 13th to fifth and taken 29 points from 13 games, while playing some of the best attacking football in La Liga.
Bas Dost scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Boavista, which leaves Sporting third in the Portuguese league, three points behind leaders Benfica. Dost has 26 goals in 27 league matches, putting him on pace to score 28 this season. Overall, he has in 32 in 43 games in all competitions.
Toronto FC resolute in CCL focus despite last-place start to MLS campaign
April 23, 201812:21PM EDTJesus Acevedo Jr.Contributor
HOUSTON – With nearly a quarter of the 2018 season in the books, Toronto FC sit alone in last place in both the Eastern Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings with just three points from their first five league games.But the defending MLS Cup champions still aren’t too concerned about that at the moment.What is on the Reds’ minds: The second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final at Estadio Akron on Wednesday, where they’ll try to overturn a 2-1 aggregate deficit against Liga MX side Chivas de Guadalajara (9:30 pm ET; TSN in Canada | UDN, go90.com in US).With that massive game clearly taking precedence, TFC chose to field a reserve-heavy side in MLS play for the second weekend in a row, dressing only 16 players in Saturday’s visit to the Houston Dynamo while the rest of the team prepares in Mexico.The 5-1 rout administered by Houston was the Reds’ fourth league loss of the season; one more and they will match their entire loss total from last season.Does Toronto head coach Greg Vanney think his side can get back to their winning ways once their CCL run is over? Vanney is sure of it, adding that after Wednesday, his side’s attention will be squarely on the MLS regular season.“I think we have a good team. Last year, at the end of six games we had seven points, and won the league by 13 or 14 points, so it’s doable. It’s not something we had planned for, but sometimes when you play games in between CONCACAF finals, you have to do what you have to do,” Vanney said. “We were fortunate enough that the league was able to move some of the earlier games around but somehow not in the stretch here in the final, so we prioritized trying to win the final for the CONCACAF, and it is what it is.”While he didn’t field his usual starting 11, the team that Vanney did put out on the pitch gave him something to consider when the Reds’ attention does shift back to the league.Vanney considered it an opportunity to see players that might not typically get a chance to see the field, adding that he could assess their progress.Did any player impress him?“Liam Fraser continues to show that he understands his role and is competent with the ball, a very good passer, composed, and I think he did a nice job,” Vanney said, while also singling out the play of Jason Hernandez, 17-year-old Julian Dunn-Johnson and Ryan Telfer.As for what he expects for Wednesday’s game against Chivas, Vanney said he’s confident his side can get the result they need to lift the trophy in Guadalajara.“I think we can score goals and we left a lot of opportunities on the table in the last game. We made two or three mistakes in the whole game, and it costs us two goals,” Vanney said. “I’ve watched the game back twice now, and for anyone who doesn’t think we should’ve won that game didn’t watch the same game – and I think I’m pretty critical with our team.”For TFC, it’s all or nothing on Wednesday night, and only after that will their full focus return to the regular season. And that could be bad news for every other MLS team.
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