I lead with the Indy 11 this week as I attended the Wed night match-up with Cincinatti FC a tough 3-2 loss to the defending USL Champs. Cincy continues to be 1 goal better than the 11 right now unfortunately as they completely overran our midfield. I do have to say again – the atmosphere at Lucas Oil really changes the Indy 11 experience – man the roof was open Wed night and it was just spectacular. Comfortable, a little breeze in the air – tons of concessions, tons of bathrooms, no lines – it was just fantastic. Listen soccer fans in Indy – you need to get to a game. The excuse that the stadium stinks no longer apply’s as this is darn near the best stadium in soccer if the fans of Indy care enough to fill the stadium. Ticket prices are lower than ever and the seats are good. Heck the BYB is so big now – you can actually sit on the corners and not have to stand with the fantastic crazies in the middle (helps old guys like me who want to be in the fray but can’t stand all game anymore). Whether you are after a family atmosphere or a 20 something group of crazies drinking beers all game – the new Indy 11 set-up at the LUKE has it all. But as a city we have to put more than 7 or 9 or 15 thousand in the stadium to make soccer work in Indianapolis? Listen Cincy FC averages 25,000 a game in a college stadium in a town that has a pro Baseball team going head to head with soccer. If we in Indy can’t average 15-20K a game in a spectacular stadium like the LUKE – we’ll we don’t deserve Professional Soccer at all – must less MLS. While this Saturday’s match-up with league leader Louisville is a tough to make 12 noon kickoff also on MyIndy TV23 – our 3 home games in June and 1 in July are all 7 pm kickoffs – we need to fill the lower bowl Indy or soon we might not have a team to call our own. Indy 11 Discount Tickets for Saturday’s Game! (Code 2018Indy)
The Champions League semi-finals did not disappoint as a fantastic 20 goals were scored over 4 games as each team pushed for away goals and 2 of the teams won big at home. It was end to end drama – with horrible reffing again, great goalkeeping mixed with a horrific gaff by Bayern keeper Sven Ulreich that was the 1 goal that Bayern lost by eventually. Liverpool hung on for a 7-6 Aggregate win at Roma on Wednesday despite the 4-2 loss on the road their 5-2 first leg lead was too much for the Italian squad to overcome. Real Madrid moves into their 3rd straight Final after surviving Bayern Munich at home 2-2 to win 4-3 on Aggregate despite being outshot and outpossessed 2-1 at home. Its sets up a fantastic final between 2-time Defending Champions Real Madrid and Renaldo vs Liverpool and Player of the Year Candidate Salah on Saturday afternoon 2:45 pm, May 27th on FOX 59 that should feature lots of goals as these are the top scoring teams in Champions League.
Europa League also gave us fabulous Semi’s as Athletico Madrid won 1-0 at home to advance past Arsenal 2-1 on Aggregate as Arsene Wenger’s chance for a dream European Title in his last season for the Gunners was not to be as a Diego Costa goal ended it all for Atletico at home. Salsberg meanwhile made up a 2-0 deficit at home vs Marseille to tie it at 2-2, but lost the game in overtime setting up Atletico Madrid vs Marseille for the Europa League Title in Lyon, France on Wed, May 16 at 2:45 pm on FS1.
EL CLASSICO SUN 2:45
While Barcelona has already won the La Liga Title – EL CLASSICO is always important as Real Madrid will travel to Camp Noa this weekend for the 238th edition . On the line is Barcelona’s chance to have the first Unbeaten season in La Liga since 1932. Of course Real Madrid is just 1 win away from winning their 3rd Straight Champions League title – but it is Barcelona who have dominated the Spanish League this season. The game is this Sunday 2:45 pm on beIN Sport.
All eyes turn towards the Relegation Zone in the EPL now that Man City has celebrated their title, Man United has settled in at 2nd and Liverpool and Tottenham have all but solidified their Champions League slots. The bottom 4 teams are sent/RELEGATED to the next lowest division. Unlike in the US where the worse teams get the top draft positions – in Europe if you suck – you get sent down to the lower divison while the top 4 teams in the lower division move up 1 league. Imagine the Cleveland Browns or Colts being sent down to the Arena League after a bad season. That’s how it works in Soccer in every other country in the World except the US of course. If it did – our Indy 11 might have moved up to MLS after winning the title 2 season’s ago. While I would love to see Relegation in the US – I never seeing it happen. So we get to enjoy these life or death matters in the European Leagues. I think the # is well over $150 million now the difference between being in the EPL and being relegated to the Championship second division. A few years back US star Clint Dempsey scored a goal in Extra Time as Fulham won on the last day to keep them in the EPL – it was called the $100 million dollar goal. Of course the next season he left for Tottenham and Fulham did get relegated and now 3 years later they have a chance to possibly move back up. Ok back to this year – the EPL Table has West Brom (28), Stoke City (30) with US player Geoff Cameron, Southampton (32), and Swansea (33) – who prematurely fired former US Coach Bob Bradley at the bottom and going down. They are chasing Huddersfield Town (35) -with US D-mid Williams, West Ham (35), Brighton (37) and Watford (38). Saturday’s slate gives us a whole slew of games with EPL survival on the line as Stoke City hosts Crystal Palace at 7:30 am on NBCSN, followed by Bournemouth vs Swansea on NBCSN at 10 am and West Brom vs Tottenham at 10 on CNBC. Sunday gives us Chelsea vs Liverpool at 11:30 am on NBCSN as Chelsea desperately battles for a top 4 slot – its preceded by Man City hosting Huddersfield at 8:30 am on NBCSN and Arsenal vs Burnley on CNBC at 11:30 am. Here’s a look at all the European Leagues standings.
Not much on TV in the MLS this weekend but we do have the New York Derby with the Red Bulls hosting Top Ranked NYCFC Sat 1:55 on ESPN.
GAMES ON TV
Thur, May 3- Europa League
3:05 pm Fox Sport1 Athletico vs Arsenal
3:05 pm Fox Sport2 Salzburg vs Olympic Marseille
Fri, May 4-
3:05 pm NBCSN Brighton vs Man United
Sat, May 5
7:30 am NBCSBN Stoke City (Cameron) vs Crystal Palace (Relegation battle)
9:30 am Fox ??? Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Mainz
10 am CnbC West Brom vs Tottenham
10 am NBCSN Bourmouth vs Swansea (Relegation battle)
12 noon beIN sport Milan vs Verona
12:30 beIN Sport Real Madrid vs Leganes
12:30 NBC Everton vs Southampton
1:55 pm ESPN NY Red Bulls vs NY City FC
2:45 pm BeIN Sport Juventus vs Bologna
12 noon My IndyTV Indy 11 vs Louisville – Lucas Oil
Sun, May 6
8:30 am NBCSN Man City vs Huddersfield
11:30 am CNBC Arsenal vs Burnley
11:30 am NBCSN Chelsea vs Liverpool
2:45 pm beIN sport Barcelona vs Real Madrid – El Classico
5 pm Orlando vs Real Salt Lake
Wed, May 9
2 pm beIn Sport Barcelona vs Villarreal
2:45 pm NBCSN Leicester City vs Arsenal
3 pm GOL TV Juve vs Milan – Italian Cup
7:30 pm FoxSport1 Toronto vs Seattle Sounders
8 pm ESPN 3 Fresno FC vs. Rio Grande Valley FC (ESPN3)
Sat, May 12
9:30am Fox Sports 1? Bayern Munich vs Stuggart
9:30 am FS1 Hoffenheim vs Dortmund (Pulisic)
Sun, May 13
10 am Newcastle United vs Chelsea (Final day of the EPL)
10 am Tottenham vs Leicester City
2:45 pm beIN Sport Roma vs Juventus
4 pm ESPN Portland vs Seattle FC
6 pm FS1 Orlando vs Atlanta
8:30 pm FS1 LAFC vs NYCFC
Sat, May 19
12:30 pm FOX Chelsea vs Man United FA CUP FINAL
Sat, May 26th
2:45 pm FOX 59 Liverpool vs Real Madrid – Champions League Final
June 7, 2018: IF: Women NT vs. China (Sandy, UT) – Tickets (Avail. 4/13) –
June 12, 2018: IF: Women NT vs. China (Cleveland, OH) – Tickets – United –
Thur, June 14 World Cup on Fox
MLS TV Schedule
GET READY TO TAILGATE WITH THE BYB –Indy 11 Soccer Fan Club –Park and Tailgate for indy 11 Games with the BYB – Parking in the Gate TEN BYB Section is $4 cheaper per game than the stadium’s South Lot- and OBVIOUSLY more fun! Located at 343 W McCarty Street, Gate TEN is just across the street from Lucas Oil Stadium. Gate TEN—the 2018 official home of the BYB–is convenient and affordable. Parking is $11 per car for single games, $150 for the season! Click HERE to purchase your pass today. You Won’t want to watch the game in any other section after standing, screaming, singing, dancing, and partying with the BEST SUPPORTERS SECTION in the US – the BYB.
Liverpool Trio Sets Champs League Scoring Record vs Roma – SI
Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas saves vs Bayern Munich
Navas Saves Real vs Bayern Footbie Video
Pregame – Navas & Steven Ulreich Great Saves
International Champions Cup
Tix in the US go on sales May 1st to the General Public but I have a special Link to allow you in the PRE-SALE. Just click here and use code ICCVIP.
Man United vs Liverpool – Sat July 28 5 pm Michigan Stadium (tix on sale now)
Indy Eleven begin Rivalry Week with loss to FC Cincinnati
Kevin Johnston, Special to IndyStarPublished 10:36 p.m. ET May 2, 2018
INDIANAPOLIS – Perhaps the most enticing perk of the Indy Eleven’s move to the United Soccer League (USL) is on full display this week: the regional rivalries.Indy, FC Cincinnati and Louisville City FC – three of the best sides in the league – are all nestled within two-hour drives of one another. This week, the Eleven get to host both regional foes within a four-day span.Indy started off its official Rivalry Week with a high-octane 3-2 loss against FC Cincinnati on Wednesday night at Lucas Oil Stadium. The setback was only the Eleven’s second of the season, the other also having come at the hands of Cincinnati. “It was an exciting game,” Eleven head coach Martin Rennie said. “It was a slow start from us. I thought we came back into the game well.”The visitors wasted little time striking first. After an Indy foul inside the penalty area, Cincinnati captain Kenney Walker scored in the seventh minute to grab a short-lived lead. Oddly enough, Walker was also culpable for Indy’s equalizer soon thereafter.n the 24th, Indy forward Jack McInerney leveled it 1-1 after pouncing on a bad giveaway by Walker. McInerney missed his initial effort, then slotted home the rebound.
Another penalty call, this time in Indy’s favor, allowed the hosts to snatch a lead. Forward Soony Saad went down during a rough challenge and left back Ayoze converted the penalty kick.FC Cincinnati midfielder Corben Bone and forward Jimmy McLaughlin linked up on a respective pass into space and finished just minutes before halftime to tie it.The second half wasn’t quite as eventful, but Bone added a winning strike in the 54th minute to go with his assist to put Cincinnati up for good, 3-2. The Eleven brought on a few subs — Nathan Lewis, Matt Watson and Justin Braun — in search of another equalizer. All three turned in active shifts, but a tying goal didn’t come.”We just wanted to make sure that we got a little more attacking zip,” Rennie said. “Nathan gave us that, and I thought Justin gave us that as well. Matt Watson controlled midfield a lot more.”FC Cincinnati generally looked better, mostly controlling the midfield while getting more out of its ventures into the final third. FC Cincinnati won the possession battle and connected on more passes, but the Eleven held a narrow edge in shot statistics.Disappointed with the final score, Indy right back Brad Ring took responsibility, explaining that his main focus was to be solid defensively.”Obviously, we didn’t do a great job of that as a team, letting in three goals tonight,” he said. “It’s a disappointment. We’re not going to win, or even get results out of games, letting in three goals. Getting two goals, for us, should be enough to get some sort of result, so it’s on the defense.”The Eleven will return to Lucas Oil for a noon kickoff Saturday against defending-champion Louisville City FC.
GET READY TO TAILGATE WITH THE BYB – Brick Yard Battalion Indy 11 Soccer Fan Club
Park and Tailgate for indy 11 Games with the BYB – Parking in the Gate 10 BYB Section is $4 cheaper per game than the stadium’s South Lot- and OBVIOUSLY more fun! Located at 343 W McCarty Street, Gate TEN is just across the street from Lucas Oil Stadium. Gate TEN—the 2018 official home of the BYB–is convenient and affordable. Parking is $11 per car for single games, $150 for the season! Click HERE to purchase your pass today. You Won’t want to watch the game in any other section after standing, screaming, singing, dancing, and partying with the BEST SUPPORTERS SECTION in the US – the BYB.
RECAP | INDY ELEVEN FALL IN 2-3 THRILLER AGAINST FC CINCINNATI AT HOME
By IndyEleven.com, 05/02/18, EDT “Boys in Blue” fall for the second time in 2018
A tough night in the Circle City as Indy Eleven fall 2-3 to FC Cincinnati at home for the second time in 2018. This marks the second time the “Boys in Blue” have dropped points this season, and the first time the team has conceded more than one goal in a match.The evening started with Indy trailing in the opening minutes. FC Cincinnati frontman Emery Welshman went down in front of Indy’s goal in the 5th minute after charging into the box. It was contact with “Boys in Blue” defender Carlyle Mitchell that led Welshman to go down gripping his head leading the official to award the visitors a penalty kick. Two minutes passed before FCC captain Kenney Walker stepped to the spot and buried the ball into the bottom left corner of the goal off his right foot. FC Cincinnati 1, Indy Eleven 0.Both sides continued to ask questions of each other. Indy Eleven forward Soony Saad got his first good look at goal in the 15th minute from a direct free kick a little over 30 yards out from the “Orange and Blue’s” goal, but the ball skidded just missed to the right of the post. Indy would find, and capitalize, on their game-leveling chance 11 minutes later. A pop ball outside of FCC’s 18-yard box fell to feet of Walker, but a bad first touch saw the ball deflect to the path of Indy Eleven forward Jack McInerney. A short dash and a shot from McInerney was deflected out of goal by Cincinnati goaltender Spencer Richey. Lacking power, the ball landed back at the feet of “Jack Mac” before he sent it into the back of the net for Indy’s first goal of the evening.The goal count continued to climb for Indy. A myriad of attempts from the “Boys in Blue” in the 29th minute forced Cincinnati into a defensive corner before Saad was eventually brought down in front of goal. The official blew his whistle and pointed to the penalty spot once more. This time, Ayoze stepped up and registered his first Indy Eleven goal with a shot in the lower left corner. The good guys were in the lead.Cincinnati weren’t going down without a fight as they leveled the score once more in the dying minutes of the first half. In the 41st minute, FCC midfielder Corben Bone chipped the ball high over Indy’s defensive line deep in the home sides own half. The ball took a single bounce in front of FCC midfielder Jimmy McLaughlin before he shot the ball from outside the box and sent it into the bottom left corner of Indy’s box. The score was tied as the first half came to a close.The second half started strong as both sides looked for their chance to take the lead. In the 54th minute, FC Cincinnati’s latest signing, midfielder Michael Lahoud hit a short pass forward to Bone at the top of the box. Bone hit the ball from the top of Indy’s 18-yard box after a controlled first touch and found the back of the net. Indy Eleven continued to look for chances throughout the second half, FC Cincinnati was back in the lead where they would remain for the rest of the evening.“It’s always disappointing to lose,” said Indy Eleven head coach Martine Rennie. “I think it’s a little bit frustrating that we lost goals at the start of each half. It was certainly an exciting game for the fans. From a coaching perspective, I would expect that it’ll be an improved performance when we come back to it on Saturday.” Indy Eleven will finish their three game stretch this Saturday at 12:00 p.m as defending USL champions Louisville City FC travel to Indianapolis. Fans cans grab tickets to the early afternoon match for as low as $15 at www.IndyElevenTix.com or by calling (317)685-1100. Scoring Summary:
CIN – Kenney Walker (PK) – 7′
IND – Jack McInerney – 24′
IND – Ayoze (PK) – 30′
CIN – Jimmy McLaughlin (Corben Bone) – 41′
CIN – Corben Bone (Michael Lahoud) – 54′
Indy Eleven lineup (4-2-3-1, L–>R): Owain Fôn Williams (GK); Brad Ring, Ayoze Garcia. Carlyle Mitchell, Karl Ouimette; Tyler Pasher, Ben Speas (Matthew Watson 60′), Juan Guerra (Justin Braun 78′), Zach Steinberger (Nathan Lewis 60′); Soony Saad, Jack McInerney
Indy Eleven bench: Jordan Farr (GK); Brad Rusin, Kevin Venegas; Nico Matern, Matt Watson; Justin Braun, Nathan Lewis
|Ayoze from the spot gets his first goal for Indy Eleven (Photo: Clyde Townsend)|
By: Rebecca Townsend
|Soony Saad awarded the penalty that would put Indy Eleven a goal in front (Photo: Clyde Townsend)|
Salivating hunger for goals and the willingness to work for them is a trait shared by Indy’s entire strike force. Justin Braun looked hungry Wednesday, as did Soony Saad, who managed to draw a PK in one of his drives into the Cincy box.Indy defender Ayoze took the shot and launched Indy ahead 2-1.The host’s euphoria did not make it to halftime.Welshman (the same one who headed in a goal for FC Cincy the last time they were in town) set up Corben Bone’s sweet chip to a speedy, wily Jimmy McLaughlin who opened Indy’s defense with an arching run across the 18 from left to right, only to demonstrate artful control by receiving the chip and executing a decisive, one-touch strike from back across the face of goal, past all of Indy’s defense and into the far, left net. Plenty of material for the team to review in terms of marking strategies on this one. 2-2.Around minute 55, Mike Lahoud’s dish to Corben Bone yields an undeniable cannon of a shot into Indy’s lower left corner for the game-winning strike. The Bitch congratulates Cincinnati, as abhorrent as it may feel. Indeed, Indy deserved it. When all the video review is said and done, it’s likely Indy will find that it has the potential to stop goals like Cincy’s. 3-2.Marking strategy is something worth considering in greater detail. Several examples could be seen Wednesday of the team communicating about marking needs, which, in short order upgrade from low to high priority. Perhaps the “bitch” of the night could involve the dissatisfaction felt when one witnesses – on at least two occasions – the communication becomes a distraction, meaning players are pointing fingers about who should be where while, meanwhile, those very opponents slide by.Here’s coach Townsend’s golden rule: the pecking order starts with the goalie, whose word trumps everyone else’s on the field. The defensive line has the second most power: when a defender points to a player and tells a midfielder or striker to get there, the recipients of that message need to shut up, listen and move to shut down the identified opponent. Wait: one more bitch. This one for the refs. If I were to choose one goof, perhaps it would be that time around minute 75 when you called a foul against Jack McInerney. From the press box, it’s a bet that McInerney was the victim of that altercation.
To counter the bitchiness, some positive notes:
High five to Carlyle Mitchell for a nice, hard committed tackle to prevent a Cincy one-on-one against Fon Williams in the 74th minute. Also to Matt Watson for great presence in stopping a threatening counter-attack as the game was winding down.The Pitch Bitch once soaked up some wisdom from a dear friend with a lifetime of professional soccer playing experience that pertains to the next few days for Indy. It’s about holding your head up and moving forward.“What do you do to help keep your head up in hard times?” she asked, as they commiserated about the heartlessness of the business of soccer — of deals made and broken — of salary dreams and salary realities.“Win,” he said. “It always helps to win.” Indy lost this battle, but the war is not over. To win, when we are knocked down, we get up and keep fighting harder. Even though the Pitch Bitch has confessed an irrational expectation that her teams win all games, she accepts reality — for the most part. So, if games must be lost, let one (or two) be lost early on — and let the victories come later. We have one more regular season match against Cincinnati — and they will host it at 7:30 on Sept. 29. (Road trip anyone?) Indy Eleven has 28 games remaining in 2018, 14 at home. We’ve got what has to be one of the greatest stadiums in the league. We’ve got 70,000 seats. Let’s party like soccer players and win a damn championship! Then maybe the powers that be will deem it feasible to give Hoosiers the world-class grass they deserve for the world-class players performing for our entertainment and education.Thanks to the Indy Eleven communication team for the following information:
“It’s always disappointing to lose,” said Indy Eleven head coach Martin Rennie. “I think it’s a little bit frustrating that we lost goals at the start of each half. It was certainly an exciting game for the fans. From a coaching perspective, I would expect that it’ll be an improved performance when we come back to it on Saturday.”
Indy Eleven will finish their three-game stretch this Saturday at 12:00 p.m as defending USL champions Louisville City FC travel to Indianapolis. Fans cans grab tickets to the early afternoon match for as low as $15 at Indy Eleven Tix or by calling (317)685-1100.
Report: Klopp, Liverpool in Contact With Dortmund, Eye Pulisic Transfer
y 90MIN May 03, 2018
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is reportedly eyeing a raid on former club Borussia Dortmund for highly rated American winger Christian Pulisic in a story that will no doubt excite Reds fans.According to Bild, Klopp has twice tried to take Pulisic, who was drafted into Dortmund’s Under-17 squad shortly before Klopp left Dortmund in 2015, to Liverpool.The 50-year-old is apparently unwilling to give up, although a deal would cost him as Bild put a figure of €60m (£53m) or more on any potential move. Whether Liverpool would want to pay that much remains to be seen, but the interest appears unlikely to drop.Bild actually contacted Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc for his take. Zorc revealed that he is in ‘constant contact’ with Klopp. But whatever those talks are about, it’s apparently not Pulisic as the Dortmund official denied having any knowledge of a possible deal.Keen Liverpool fans may choose to believe that Zorc isn’t telling the whole truth. Or they may simply hope that one day soon Klopp formalizes his long standing interest in Pulisic and brings up the subject as part of that ‘constant contact’ he has with former colleague Zorc.The 19-year-old Pulisic will not be going to the World Cup this summer after the United States failed to qualify for the first time since 1986, but he’s enjoyed another promising year at club level.The youngster has managed 12 combined goals and assists in 40 appearances in all competitions for the club this season, starting 25 times in the Bundesliga as Dortmund battle to secure Champions League football for next season.He played a full 90 minutes in Champions League games against Tottenham and Real Madrid earlier this season, but a bout of illness ruled him out of the Europa League last 16 second leg against Red Bull Salzburg as Dortmund surprisingly exited the competition.
champions League semifinals were fraught, flawed, frenetic and fun
4:00 AM ETGabriele Marcotti
Football loves its conventional wisdom as much as any other endeavour. For a long time, there was this belief that semifinals were necessarily tight, tactical affairs, particularly in Europe.I’m not sure if it was ever based on anything other than anecdotal evidence or observation bias, but the thinking went something like this: The away team would be conservative because the first leg was really only the first half of a match lasting 180 minutes, and the home team would be terrified of conceding that “all-important away goal” (another trope). Whatever the case, this Champions League season was different. And it’s not just about the number of goals scored — 20 over four semifinal games — but rather the way the ties unfolded.Nobody parked the bus. Everybody spent most of their 180 minutes either playing on the front foot or trying to win the ball back so they could attack. When teams took the lead, it didn’t seem to occur to them to manage the advantage in the traditional way: making the pitch big by spreading the passes around, controlling the tempo, dropping the team’s centre of gravity so as to suck them forward and create space behind. And when they tried, they often came up short.Most of all, these four games were marked by mistakes. Plenty of them.You had tactical ones, like Roma’s absurd high line against Liverpool’s roadrunners, which turned Federico Fazio and Juan Jesus into twin Wile E. Coyotes, or Real Madrid’s pigheaded insistence upon trying to play through the Bayern press each and every time.You had technical ones; too many to count, so let’s just name those who made the most egregious missteps on the defensive end (one per team, to be equal): Radja Nainggolan, Sergio Ramos, Dejan Lovren and Sven Ulreich.You also had poor finishing. Lots of it. The result, for those who like their expected goals, are xG maps that look like this and this.That is a ton. And we might have had even more if not for some distinctly disjointed refereeing, from unseen handballs to — for me anyway — the biggest blown call of all: Ramos’ bodycheck that sent Robert Lewandowski flying.Expect think pieces about the “lost art of defending” in 3, 2, 1, but perhaps it’s a little bit simpler than that and, maybe, drawing massive conclusions based on four matches is premature.There are plenty of other reasons for what we saw. These four teams might have reached the final four, but there’s a reason three of them are third in their respective leagues and the fourth, Bayern, have a 24-point lead at the top and haven’t really had to break a sweat too often since February.These are imperfect entities; three of them simply do not suffocate opponents and kill games consistently, while Bayern, which probably could, have elected to spend the past three months chopping and changing personnel, losing chemistry and edge in the process.All of that leads to mistakes, and so too does in-house philosophy.Jurgen Klopp — by choice — is an attacking manager. So is Zinedine Zidane, though perhaps less by choice. Jupp Heynckes, who knew he was retiring (again) at the end of the campaign, restored Bayern to the Guardiola Era mindset: two wingers and a centre-forward, plus James Rodriguez and Thomas Muller.And Eusebio Di Francesco, while perhaps not as obsessively attack-oriented, is nevertheless one of the most daring, roll-of-the-dice coaches out there, a manager whose style adheres to the Kenny Rogers credo: “Every hand’s a winner/And every hand’s a loser/ And the best that you can hope for/ Is to die in your sleep.”Press high up the pitch and you force mistakes while exposing your defence; it’s as simple as that. There’s always a trade-off in football. These teams can beat you in different ways, but what really gees them up is luring opponents into areas where they can hunt the ball down and then, with one or two passes, shoot on goal.It’s true that, broadly speaking, there are more teams across Europe looking to play attacking football and defending higher up the pitch. But there are also some who view it differently. Replace these four semifinalists with, say, Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Manchester United and Borussia Monchengladbach, and maybe our experience would have been distinctly different despite the fact that, as a group, these four aren’t far worse than the other four (and some might say they’re even better).In fact, that probably also explains the lost art of defending narrative. Sure, there aren’t many Paolo Maldinis around, but there weren’t too many when he was in his prime, either. Defending is a whole lot easier when you’re 30 yards away from your goalkeeper, your full-backs are actual defenders and not recycled wingers, there are two holding midfielders protecting you and you don’t have a bunch of wild-eyed forwards hunting you down every time you have possession.Throw in the fact that every defensive error is scrutinized like never before and you can see why defenders so often are treated like cannon fodder. (Not to mention that the good things they do often involve the sort of stuff that doesn’t make for good highlights.)Put all this together and maybe these semifinals weren’t the chaos that they appeared. In fact, unless you’re a Bayern or Roma fan — in which case you’re wondering what might have been and how you didn’t overcome far-from-unbeatable opponents — you probably enjoyed these games.There were gross mistakes — yes, from referees, too — but there were also moments of wonderful skill and two ties that remained in doubt until the very end (OK, in Roma’s case, the last five seconds, but still).Mistakes are part of the game, and error-strewed ties do not mean the sky is falling. More likely, they’re a one-off. And a welcome, fun one at that.
Goals aplenty make Roma vs Liverpool a semi-final to sing and dance about
Paul Hayward,The Telegraph 7 hours ago
To understand it you just had to look at Trent Alexander-Arnold, 19 and Liverpool born, celebrating in front of the away supporters with his shirt off. Jurgen Klopp’s right-back was surrounded by kindred spirits but also in a world of his own.Mark Lawrenson recalled that the Roma manager knew his side were beaten in the 1984 final here when Liverpool’s players walked round the pitch beforehand singing a Chris Rea song. No team that confident was going to go home without the European Cup. Klopp’s side are still a leap away from being European champions, but Alexander-Arnold, who comes from West Derby and joined the club aged six, is one of several in this squad who are turning from boys to men.Thus Liverpool are already winners in the developmental stakes: Champions League finalists in Klopp’s second full season in charge, with individual improvement all across the field. Back in 84, Liverpool had class, history, aura, built up over two decades. This time they came to Rome as revelations. And they came with goals. If this year’s Champions League semi-finals have resembled basketball at times, you can hardly ask Liverpool to apologise for being the first team to reach 46 goals in a single Champions League campaign. Their prolific scoring is only partly explained by the defensive frailties in front of them. The biggest cause is their irresistible movement and finishing.Sadio Mane can be the least celebrated of the trident and still open the scoring stylishly. Georgi Wijnaldum can start the game badly and still head Liverpool’s second en route to a 7-6 aggregate victory. This was not a semi. It was an arms race.Who fizzed and who flopped in the Champions League semi-final decider?Liverpool, of all clubs, know the value of not giving up, from the final in Istanbul 13 years ago. Eusebio Di Francesco’s team also know it well. They fought to the end, almost chasing another lost cause down, until the final whistle released Liverpool from their “suffering” as Klopp called it.
A minority of Roma’s fans had displayed dark the power of dysfunctional tribalism, turning the Stadio Olimpico into a security compound, a week after the appalling injuries suffered by a Liverpool supporter, Sean Cox, outside Anfield. But the majority brought a more benign kind of pressure to bear on Liverpool, the new hot ticket in European football.There was a strange kind of madness about this tie, with Liverpool losing their No 2 coach, Zjleko Buvac, who left the party just as it was getting really good, Steven Gerrard being courted by Rangers and away fans having to observe elaborate travel plans to ensure their safety. Outside the ground, the notorious bridges over the Tiber stood like crossing points from a nightmare, even with the swarms of carabinieri.Sadio Mane scored the first of six goals on the night This kind of tension sits badly with the beauty of Rome, but maybe the two are indivisible. Turmoil is expressed in every Roman street, some of it merely emotional, other parts of it political and much darker. Football feeds this need for melodrama, but Roma were trying to feed it from an impossible position, against opponents who were also expected to fall long before this stage. Liverpool in Europe: Finals ranked and ratedThe script was that Virgil van Dijk’s defensive unit would pick up where Mo Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino left off at Anfield. Liverpool would probably pinch an away goal to ease the pressure, but the main aim was stopping Roma doing what they did to Barcelona in the last-round. Roma’s fans came here thinking a second miracle was possible. Liverpool fought against their own belief that a 3-0 Roma win was impossible, given the effervescence of their own front-three, which reflects the modern cult of forwards working in gangs of three.Seldom has a 5-2 starting point felt so tantalising, and Liverpool could never relax on their seemingly commanding position. The threat was always there. Salah, meanwhile, now knows the pointlessness of not celebrating goals against former clubs. At Anfield, Salah was apologetic about his two first-half goals, raising his palms and avoiding the group hug. His reward was to be jeered by Roma fans on his old hunting ground – a more rational approach, if a little ungracious.Roma have been derided as semi-final impostors. But you could hardly question their spirit. They pressed and hustled, hounding Liverpool’s two young full-backs, Andy Robertson and Alexander-Arnold, and giving Van Dijk the biggest test of his Liverpool career, four months in. Roma went direct, whipping diagonal balls forward and trying to create mayhem in Loris Karius’s penalty box.With eight minutes left, Klopp sent Ragnar Klavan on as a fifth defender in place of Mane, but even then the tension was maintained – and intensified when Radja Nainggollan struck from long-range with five minutes left, and then scored from the penalty spot. Desperation, of different kinds, gripped both teams. Football ceases to be academic at this point. It becomes a ferocious battle of wills. You either stand or break. Purists will say that no tie with so many goals can be hailed as a classic. But it’s too early in Liverpool’s return as European heavyweights to be throwing academic caveats at them.They were forged by fire in this tumultuous semi-final, which propels them into a final against another team, Real Madrid, who made it to Kiev the hard way. Liverpool earned another stroll round the pitch and a song.
Liverpool Stumbles at Roma But Finishes Job to Reach Champions League Final
By JONATHAN WILSON May 02, 2018
Liverpool will face Real Madrid in the 2017-18 Champions League final after a 4-2 defeat away to Roma confirmed a 7-6 aggregate victory in their entertaining semifinal.Jurgen Klopp’s side was never entirely convincing, despite twice taking the lead, first through Sadio Mane and then Georginio Wijnaldum, but Roma never got within three goals on aggregate until it was entirely too late. The advantage Roma had of scoring two away goals in the first leg was wiped out with 25 minutes gone in the second.An own-goal from James Milner and an eighth Champions League goal of the season from Edin Dzeko kept Roma in the tie, but the hosts only moved to within two goals with Radja Nainggolan’s 86th-minute drive. A powerful penalty shot from Nainggolan in the final minute of injury time made it look far closer than the series really had been, and Liverpool is back on the final stage for a rematch of the 1981 title clash, which was won by the Reds in Paris.
Here are three thoughts on their semifinal second leg triumph:
ROCKY REARGUARD UNDOES ROMA AGAIN
Roma had been undone again and again at Anfield by simple balls over the top and understandably sat much deeper here, trying to restrict the space in behind the defensive line. But the problem with doing that is that it makes the team as a whole far less compact, increasing the area in which the midfield has to operate, particularly when the focus, as it had to be, is on the attack. Roma threatened early on, but as soon as Nainggolan gave away possession in the ninth minute, the problem was clear. Roberto Firmino had space to run at an exposed back line, and it was then a simple task of timing his throughball for Mane, who finished with rather more confidence than he had shown at Anfield.That was the first goal Roma had conceded at home in this season’s Champions League which, frankly, seemed barely credible. This was not a side that inspired much confidence. The sloppy marking that led to Virgil van Dijk nodding in the fifth goal from a corner at Anfield could be explained by the state of the game and the daze into which Roma had sunk by that stage. Here, it was harder to understand.Roma found itself back into the game with a 15th-minute equalizer on a bizarre own goal, but 10 minutes later a great surge and cutback from Andy Robertson brought a corner as Alisson blocked Mane’s low effort. Roma struggled to clear, with Dzeko eventually being pressured into heading the ball back towards his own goal. From there, Wijnaldum headed it down past Alisson, and the tie was essentially settled.
ROMA’S 4-3-3 CAUSES PROBLEMS
Roma had caused Liverpool problems late on at Anfield after switching back to its familiar 4-3-3, and it was no surprise that manager Eusebio Di Francesco reverted to that shape Wednesday. That gave Roma greater attacking width, and there was a clear early strategy of trying to get the rapid Stephan El Shaarawy in behind Trent Alexander-Arnold. The young right back was given little support by Mohamed Salah, who stayed high up the pitch, essentially playing a game of chicken with Roma left back Aleksandar Kolarov. But the Roma equalizer came from the other flank, just as its opening goal had in the first leg. This time it was Alessandro Florenzi with the cross, and as Lorenzo Pellegrini returned the ball across goal, Lovren’s slightly panicky clearance smacked into Milner’s face and back into his own goal.But for all Roma’s efforts, it didn’t manage a shot on target in the first half–although it did hit the post as El Sharaawy’s shot deflected off Milner to leave Loris Karius scrambling across his goal.The route down the left proved profitable for Roma seven minutes into the second half, though. Alexander-Arnold missed a through-ball, allowing El Shaarawy into the box. Karius had his shot covered but rather than pushing the ball clear, he patted it tamely into the center of the box, where Dzeko gratefully accepted the gift. The goalkeeper, just a couple of minutes earlier, had been fortunate not to concede a penalty when Dzeko was wrongly ruled offside. For all of Liverpool’s success, Roma created its share of opportunities.
CAN LIVERPOOL STAVE OFF PANIC, LAPSES IN THE FINAL?
Liverpool, going forward, is a team that plays in surges, regularly scoring two or three goals in rapid succession. But it also is a team that is prone to defensive lapses. The arrival of Van Dijk has made it more solid than it previously was, but this is still the team that let a 3-0 lead against Sevilla slip earlier in the competition.The warning was there in the final 10 minutes of the first leg and the sense of anxiety was there throughout the second half of the second. There was a tentativeness to its attacking play, as though Liverpool was caught between the all-out assault that can blow sides away and holding possession. The result was a number of attacks that ran out of momentum around the edge of the Roma box. That unease spread throughout the side.Karius has made the goalkeeping position his own in the second half of the season, but he had a skittish night, and it was revealing that Jordan Henderson yelled at him to be more decisive after he had stayed on his line as substitute Cengiz Under got on the end of a lofted ball over the top. Alexander-Arnold, too, was very fortunate not to concede a penalty for handball as he blocked a close-range El Shaarawy shot. The 19-year-old is a player of huge promise, but he had a difficult night.Roma’s pressure did bring a win on the night as Nainggolan smashed in a late drive and then a penalty after a baffling handball decision against Klavan. It wasn’t enough to really threaten the lead given the timing of it all, but it did highlight Liverpool’s struggle to control the game.Roma could not fully take advantage, but a punishing side like Real Madrid might come their final showdown later this month.
Liverpool snuff out Roma comeback as Karius outshines Alisson to reach UCL final
4:51 PM ETMark OgdenSenior Football WriterROME — Three quick thoughts from Roma’s 4-2 Champions League semifinal second-leg win over Liverpool, which sees the Reds advance 7-6 on aggregate, setting up a final date with Real Madrid in Kiev.
- Liverpool move on to reach eighth European Cup final
Georginio Wijnaldum scored his first away goal for three years to help Liverpool secure their eighth Champions League final appearance with a 7-6 aggregate semifinal victory against AS Roma.Wijnaldum, whose last goal away from home came in PSV Eindhoven’s colours in May 2015, banished any fears of a Roma fightback Wednesday in the Stadio Olimpico by putting Liverpool 2-1 ahead on the night after a James Milner own goal had cancelled out Sadio Mane’s ninth-minute opener. Edin Dzeko’s equaliser on 52 minutes gave Roma an outside chance of repeating their quarterfinal heroics against Barcelona, but Liverpool resisted heavy pressure from the home side — and rode their luck at times — to snuff out the Italians’ hopes before Radja Nainggolan’s late brace gave Roma a 4-2 win on the night.Liverpool’s 5-2 victory at Anfield in the first leg was the key to their progression to the final, but their second-half defending in Rome will be a concern to Jurgen Klopp ahead of the final against Real Madrid in Kiev.Roma created countless chances and were unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty after a Trent Alexander-Arnold handball that pushed Stephan El Shaarawy’s close-range effort over the crossbar. On another night, Liverpool could have conceded more, and their frailties cannot be repeated against Real on May 26 if they are to win a sixth European Cup.But Klopp has guided the club to the final, and their forward line of Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino ensure they will travel to Ukraine with confidence. It might turn out to be a case of the team with the best defence on the night winning this season’s Champions League.
- Karius might have seen off the threat of Alisson
This semifinal has been a tale of two goalkeepers, but the script hasn’t quite turned out as many would have anticipated.Ahead of the first leg at Anfield, much of the talk surrounded Roma’s Alisson Becker, the Brazil No. 1 who has been linked to both Liverpool and Real Madrid in recent months. Good enough to be keeping Manchester City’s Ederson out of the Brazil team, Alisson was highlighted as one of Roma’s strong points — a key factor if they were to make it to the final.In contrast, Liverpool’s Loris Karius was the man under pressure, with Alisson’s shadow looming over him at Anfield. The German has seen off Simon Mignolet to become Liverpool’s first choice, but he is still prone to errors and that is why Klopp has been urged to sign a proven replacement.On the evidence of the two legs of this semifinal, though, Karius is improving rapidly and growing in confidence. Although he could have done better with the shot that he palmed out to Dzeko for Roma’s second, Karius was otherwise commanding and assured.Alisson, meanwhile, did little to stem the Liverpool tide and did not cover himself in glory at Anfield or in this game. The Brazilian does not command his area as a keeper of his stature should, and he commits himself too early, which might have been a factor in Mane’s opener in this game.His film-star looks might remind one of a matinee idol, but as a supposedly world-class goalkeeper his performance has been decidedly B-list.
- Roma can be a force, but they aren’t yet
Roma overachieved by reaching the semifinals of the Champions League, and the Stadio Olimpico will never forget the incredible win against Barcelona in the quarterfinals. But their exit against Liverpool exposed the Giallorossi‘s limitations and highlighted the work that needs to be done to make them a force to be reckoned with in the Champions League.The noisy, passionate atmosphere inside the stadium is a big advantage that Roma can play to in future campaigns, but the team is not yet on the same level.Eusebio Di Francesco’s squad is too old to challenge for the European Cup. They have the ability to pull off a result like the one against Barcelona, but sustaining that throughout a season is beyond this crop of players.Yet with their vocal supporters and the money raised from this Champions League campaign, Roma can grow stronger and aim to mount a genuine threat to Juventus in Serie A. That will become a real target once they build their proposed new stadium.Once they become a title-winning force in Italy, Roma can become a European heavyweight, but it will take time.Their run to the semifinals will have given Roma a taste for more glory nights, and they certainly have the capacity for growth in the coming years.
Bayern Munich Its Own Worst Enemy as Real Madrid Returns to Champions League Final
Real Madrid earned its way to another Champions League final, but Bayern Munich offered plenty of assistance over the course of two legs, making costly errors and missing gilt-edged chances in their tense semifinal. By JONATHAN WILSON May 01, 2018
Karim Benzema scored twice as Real Madrid drew 2-2 with Bayern Munich to seal its place in a fourth Champions League final in five years with a 4-3 aggregate victory.Yet again this season, though, Madrid was left clinging on, reliant on attacking excellence to overcome defensive shortcomings, and it went through more because of a dreadful error from Bayern goalkeeper Sven Ulreich than because of anything it had worked to create.Like in the opening leg, Bayern had gotten off to the perfect start, taking a third-minute lead through Joshua Kimmich, but Benzema headed in a Marcelo cross to level eight minutes later.But in the first minute of the second half, Ulreich missed a back pass from Corentin Tolisso, presenting Benzema with a gift for his second. James Rodriguez, who is on loan to Bayern from Real Madrid, did level the score on the night–and ostentatiously refused to celebrate–but Madrid held on and will face either Liverpool or Roma in the final on May 26 in Kiev.
Here are three thoughts on the semifinal thriller:
BAYERN ITS OWN WORST ENEMY AGAIN
Again, Bayern was its own worst enemy. It was a shocking error from Rafinha that gifted Real Madrid the winner in the first leg, and it was an even bigger mistake from Ulreich that handed Madrid the lead 20 seconds into the second half. Tolisso’s back-pass perhaps wasn’t the best but, still, Ulreich had plenty of time to clear. He started to go for the ball with his hands but then, as though realizing that would concede an indirect free-kick, he tried to adjust and missed the ball entirely, presenting Benzema with an open goal. That left Bayern needing two and as it desperately sought them, the game became incredibly stretched with both sides’ defensive structures, never entirely convincing, disintegrating. Cristiano Ronaldo, with a chance to settle the tie, blazed another Marcelo cross over an empty net, but Bayern still had more than enough chances to win. It did get one as James tucked in after his initial shot had been blocked, but Madrid, wasting time and breaking up the game, held out.Bayern was thwarted by Keylor Navas, who made a number of fine saves, none better than his remarkable reflex block to keep out a deflected David Alaba shot. Bayern will also look to referee Cuneyt Cakir’s decision not to give a penalty for a clumsy challenge by Sergio Ramos on Robert Lewandowski. But Lewandowski’s odd sluggishness didn’t help and both he and Muller squandered presentable opportunities. Across both legs, two terrible mistakes and a general wastefulness cost Bayern.
MARCELO REMAINS INFLUENTIAL–FOR BETTER AND WORSE
Last week, Marcelo made up for the defensive laxity that cost Madrid the opener by volleying in an equalizer and again both his strengths and weaknesses were on display. The Brazilian is a very modern fullback at an elite side, which is to say that he takes the attacking part of his job rather more seriously than the defensive. That is fine in the vast majority of games Madrid plays, when it dominates the ball and territory and doesn’t have much defending to do, but it does make Madrid vulnerable against sides that are capable of attacking.Although Bayern’s opening goal, scored after three minutes, was primarily the result of an error from Sergio Ramos–who attempted a needlessly spectacular clearance and fluffed it to Kimmich, who slammed in–Thomas Muller’s ball into the box was only possible because of Marcelo’s failure to close him down–a starting basic lapse.But eight minutes later, Marcelo found space at the other end of the pitch, took down a superb long pass from Mateo Kovacic, the last in a sequence of 28, and crossed for Benzema, unmarked at the back post, to head in.
REAL MADRID BACK IN THE FINAL BUT REMAINS VULNERABLE
To widespread surprise, Casemiro was left on the bench as Zinedine Zidane reshuffled his midfield. Lucas Vazquez operated at right back, as he had late on last week after the injury to Dani Carvajal, using his pace against Franck Ribery, while Kovacic came into the center of midfield alongside Toni Kroos with Luka Modric moving out to the right flank. Vazquez found it very difficult to contain Ribery, though, as like in the first leg, Bayern dominated in midfield. This is a recurring issue for Madrid and one of the reasons Zidane’s side seems so incapable of controlling games.In truth, shuffling personnel is never going to solve the problem, which is structural. The 4-4-2 perhaps gives greater stability than the 4-3-3 Madrid has often played under Zidane, but Madrid keeps falling into the same trap that undid Barcelona away to Roma. If the two forwards don’t track back, if they perform little or no defensive function, it means any defender stepping forward will create an extra man in midfield. With Alaba back after his back injury and Kimmich as attacking as ever, Madrid struggled badly.Even Mats Hummels was encouraged into a slaloming dribble midway through the first half, leading to the chance James fired over from four yards with the goal gaping after Navas had saved from Lewandowski.Real Madrid is back in the final with a chance at a fourth trophy in five years and a third in a row, but it is far from unbeatable.
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah gripped by homecoming nerves in Champions League semifinal
5:39 PM ETSteven Kelly
Liverpool reached their first Champions League final in 11 years, but once again made it far harder than it needed to be in a 7-6 aggregate win over Roma after falling 4-2 in the Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday. Throughout the tie, two iffy penalties and an own goal made it closer than it really was.
They did excellently to pick off Roma when the home side had to push forward and easily got the goals they needed to make the result secure — but only just.
Once again defence and game management emerged as the Reds’ only real weaknesses. It’s almost as though retaining possession is just too boring for them and a Roma side not on their level were allowed to come back into it.
Manager rating out of 10
7 — The team, for better or worse, is what it is and where it is thanks to Jurgen Klopp. Very few teams could go through after conceding six goals, but Liverpool managed it because few teams can handle this exceptional attack.
Player ratings: (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Loris Karius, 7 — Catching was mostly excellent, and considering Roma put in plenty of crosses, it needed to be. Poor effort for the hosts’ second, when he palmed a shot straight to danger man Edin Dzeko, but other saves were needed. Lucky not to concede a penalty, too.
DF Trent Alexander-Arnold, 7 — Early nerves were understandable but kept his head and passed well throughout, always supporting his forwards. Roma focussed most of their pressure on his side of the pitch, and with support from midfield he just about managed to do his job.
DF Dejan Lovren, 6 — Not a great clearance for Roma’s first, but he was unlucky to hit James Milner in the face with his clearance for an own goal. Good on crosses and clearances but couldn’t get near Dzeko all night and gave away a dangerous free kick, for which he was rightly booked.
DF Virgil van Dijk, 7 — A mostly calm display, but he has lapsed into the Liverpool habit of continually searching for a killer pass when quiet, methodical possession could have thwarted the Italians’ comeback. Great on headed clearances once again.
DF Andrew Robertson, 8 — The youngster charged forward on every occasion and created one or two great opportunities that should have been converted. Roma attacks rarely came down the left, but credit the Scot’s current form because they probably viewed that as a waste of time.
MF Jordan Henderson, 7 — Good captain’s display. Rarely did anything flashy but was doing all the right things Liverpool needed to ease pressure and lower the temperature of the game. Unfortunately, few of his teammates did the same.
MF James Milner, 7 — Unlucky own goal but did his work diligently and effectively. Carried the ball forward well late on, but others were tiring by then and could not take advantage.
MF Georginio Wijnaldum, 8 — An away goal at last for the Dutchman, and what a time to get it. Did his usual hard work and tried to protect Alexander-Arnold when Roma began putting on pressure. In the end, his goal put Liverpool through.
FW Sadio Mane, 9 — Missed big chances in the first leg but took just a few minutes to get a goal on Wednesday when it truly mattered. Lots of intelligent running and dribbling, he was a constant thorn in defenders’ sides. Probably shouldn’t have come off, as Roma just couldn’t cope with him.
FW Mohamed Salah, 6 — A rare off night for the Egyptian as a long season and homecoming nerves seemed to take their toll. Rarely shot well, though he tried more often than he probably should have, and didn’t link up well with others. He’s done so much to get Liverpool into this final that it was about time others covered for him.
FW Roberto Firmino, 7 —Handed the ball on a plate to set up Mane’s opener but was still exceptionally calm at such an early stage of this vital game. Did his normal work but just couldn’t summon enough guile to help make the game secure and tired late on.
DF Ragnar Klavan, NR — Brought on to stiffen up the defence but nearly caused havoc by conceding a very harsh penalty. Luckily it was the last action of a tense game.
FW Dominic Solanke, NR — Klopp needed fresh legs to take the ball into the corners and waste time, but Solanke rarely got the chance.
DF Nathaniel Clyne, NR — Put on to waste precious seconds and took no part in the action.
Champions League: Karim Benzema, Sadio Mane, Keylor Navas, Edin Dzeko in team of the week
6:51 AM ETNick AmesESPN FC
Liverpool will face Real Madrid in the Champions League final, but who starred in the semifinal second legs? Here’s the best XI from the last four.
Do you agree? Have your say in the comments below.
GK — Keylor Navas (Real Madrid)
Real Madrid rode their luck against Bayern Munich and could be grateful that Navas, sometimes a maligned figure, produced so spectacularly between the posts. Navas made a string of superb saves — eight in total — which is more than any Real Madrid goalkeeper has produced in a Champions League knockout game this decade. His handling was outstanding and when he plays like this, nobody can doubt his place in the top bracket.
RB — Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich)
There is a sense Kimmich is wasted at right-back and he showed his goalscoring instincts for the second time in the semifinals when he put Bayern ahead early on at the Bernabeu. His strength in defensive duels could sometimes be better but on the front foot he is a top-class performer and would have been a worthy competitor in this year’s final. After the first leg Kimmich had been disappointed with Bayern’s naivety but there could be no such complaints this week.
CB — Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)
It needed a heroic showing from Ramos — as well as his central defensive partner Raphael Varane — to see Real through to the final. His celebrations with the Bernabeu support afterwards were well-earned; in a match that saw Real stretched time and again his leadership was crucial and he came up with a number of well-timed interceptions and blocks, particularly in the second half.
CB — Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)
Van Dijk has rapidly become an inspirational figure for Liverpool and was vital again amid waves of Roma pressure on Wednesday night. The centre-back’s towering presence in the opposition box contributed to Giorginio Wijnaldum’s goal but his best work came further back, where his mixture of physique and composure — and his knowledge of when to apply both — stood out.
LB — Andy Robertson (Liverpool)
Robertson was up against a tireless performer in Roma’s Alessandro Florenzi but dealt with his threat well, also getting forward well to assist with Sadio Mane’s lightning sorties. The former Hull man has been one of the success stories of this Champions League season and looks more than comfortable at this stage. Now his biggest test lies ahead in Kiev.
CM — Giorginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)
He came up with the goal that, ultimately, gave Liverpool the cushion they needed but Wijnaldum’s performance against Roma was about much more than that. Alongside Jordan Henderson and James Milner he harried Roma’s midfield and disrupted when necessary, but also showed the kind of cool head needed to pick passes and afford his team moments of respite in a hurly-burly encounter.
CM — Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich)
When Alcantara plays like this it is a reminder that, when on top of his game, he is one of the best midfielders in the world. He helped Bayern set a formidable tempo from the off at the Bernabeu, moving between the boxes tirelessly and setting numerous dangerous moves in motion. He deserved better than to be on the losing side having comfortably outshone the likes of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.
CM — James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich)
He would not admit it but James had a sizeable point to prove on his return to the Bernabeu and, accordingly, performed like a man possessed. He should have scored in the first half, skying over from close range, but his goal after the break — a piece of following-up that epitomised the hunger he showed throughout — gave Bayern fresh hope and he was an indefatigable creative force throughout against his parent club.
LW — Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Jurgen Klopp promised Liverpool would not sit back in Rome and they kept to their word, with Mane outshining Mohamed Salah as their most threatening outlet this time. There was never any sense he would miss when confronted with Alisson Becker after Roberto Firmino’s early pass; he duly converted the goal that sent Liverpool on their way, his ninth of this Champions League season, and was at times electric thereafter when leading rapid counters.
CF — Edin Dzeko (Roma)
Roma may have fallen just short but it was not for lack of trying by Dzeko, who scored seven minutes after the break to give the Italians fresh hope and was their best player overall in the two legs against Liverpool. The striker was excellent throughout and can reflect on a fine personal Champions League campaign; he scored eight European goals this season, five in the knockout stages, and played some of the best football of his career.
RW — Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
Benzema’s third and fourth goals at Champions League semifinal level were crucial — particularly considering the manner in which Real struggled elsewhere. His close-range header settled them down after a whirlwind start from Bayern and while Sven Ulreich’s mistake handed him what proved to be the decisive goal on a plate, the chance still arose from his hunger to chase down Corentin Tolisso’s backpass. And that is the essence of Benzema — a striker who can sniff out a big goal from absolutely nowhere.
Juventus take charge of Serie A, Barca celebrate, Liverpool’s Buvac stress
11:21 AM ETGabriele Marcotti
If Saturday night at the San Siro really did the decide the Serie A title — and it sure as heck looks that way — then neutrals could not have asked for much more in terms of drama, emotion, incident and controversy.Juventus took the lead with a deflected Douglas Costa goal, and inside 20 minutes they had the man advantage too, with Matias Vecino’s stamp on Mario Mandzukic earning a VAR-assisted red card. Juve had another goal disallowed (with help from VAR) before Mauro Icardi’s header levelled matters shortly after the break. Just inside the hour mark came the call they’ll be talking about all week: Miralem Pjanic, already booked, collides with Rafinha and isn’t shown a second yellow.A furious, undermanned Inter nevertheless took the lead as Andrea Barzagli turned Ivan Perisic’s cross into his own net. Inter were taking massive step towards the Champions League, and Napoli, who played the following day, could almost feel their third scudetto in club history.Then came Luciano Spalletti’s changes, specifically sending on David Santon (a defender) for Mauro Icardi (a striker). And then came Juve’s wild comeback with two goals after the 87th minute. First came a Milan Skriniar own goal off Juan Cuadrado’s cross, and then Gonzalo Higuain, who had done close to nothing until that point other than squandering a sitter, popped up at the very end with the winner.
You get exhausted just writing the above.Referee Daniele Orsato is obviously in the eye of the storm, and given Juve’s history with referees, even more than a decade after Calciopoli, there’s an ugly tinge to the criticism. As I see it, not showing Pjanic a second yellow for the sort of play a safety might make on a wide receiver over the middle was simply wrong. Orsato does have a reputation of being a guy who lets play run and doesn’t call niggling fouls or hand out cheap cards, but this was tough to swallow.That said, before we get carried away with conspiracies, he was lenient in real time on Vecino before VAR (and the grisly post-match photos) confirmed it was a cast-iron red. A different official might have sent Barzagli off for going above the ankle on Icard, but letting it slide in some ways is in keeping with Orsato’s approach, and ultimately what is asked of refs is consistency.But there are also some basic takeaways that ought not be overshadowed by the Pjanic (non-)decision. Inter were heroic in fighting back with 10 men for some 70-plus minutes. Icardi, Rafinha and Marcelo Brozovic were outstanding: when they’re in this form, they are clearly Champions League knockout material.Luciano Spalletti’s changes altered the game. He got hammered and rightly so for the Santon-Icardi substitution, not just because Santon was complicit on Juve’s equaliser (mistakes happen) but because football is also about emotion and momentum and removing your captain at that stage deflated the side. What’s more, his first substitution only came nine minutes from time. When you’ve spent most of the game with 10 men and your players are clearly exhausted, as many were, why not act earlier, just not with Icardi? It’s true that Inter don’t have a deep bench but neither do they have Real Madrid-calibre starters. Some fresh legs earlier on might have made a difference.As for Juve, much praise is given for the nine lives they seem to have in terms of pulling out late winners. But the sterling performance at the Bernabeu seems far away. Allegri is backing in towards the title. For much of the game, they seemed to play with fear and insecurity, incapable of imposing themselves and making the extra man count. It’s true that he sent on Paulo Dybala and Federico Bernardeschi to change it, but that was in a moment when he had few alternatives.Perhaps peak Allegri was reached after Higuain’s winner. Worried that his players were celebrating too much and wouldn’t be concentrated enough after the restart, he ran on to the pitch to shout at them — and got himself sent to the stands as a result. You can admire the attention to detail, but the confidence we’d seen in in him in past seasons simply wasn’t there.
Meanwhile … Napoli implode
Some 10,000 Napoli supporters gathered to give the team a send-off before Sunday’s match against Fiorentina. You can only imagine how deflated they must have been on Saturday night watching Juventus come from behind to beat Inter, restoring the four-point gap atop Serie A.Did that carry over into their performance at Fiorentina? Who knows?It’s more likely that the red card for Kalidou Koulibaly, Napoli’s hero the previous week, after just six minutes had a bigger impact. VAR played a key role. Originally, the referee had booked Koulibaly and awarded a penalty but replays showed the foul was outside the box. That meant no penalty, but a straight red and you’d imagine Napoli would have preferred it the other way around. Maurizio Sarri sacrificed a midfielder, Jorginho, to send on a defender and in one fell swoop, Napoli lost both their best center-back and their midfield playmaker.Giovanni Simeone’s hat trick sent Napoli crashing to a 3-0 defeat. And while the game was closer than the scoreline suggests, it did feel as if the club ran out of steam. It’s not over yet, of course. But Napoli need to run the table while hoping that Juve drop points not just against Roma away (possible) but also either against Bologna or Verona at home. The likelihood of both outcomes happening appears decidedly remote.
Finally, Barcelona can celebrate their title
Assessing Barcelona’s title-winning season
The ESPN FC crew explain why Barcelona’s La Liga title triumph is especially significant, given their ‘roller coaster of a season’ so far.
Barcelona locked up La Liga by defeating Deportivo La Coruna, who are desperately trying to avoid relegation, by going 2-0 up, getting pegged back to 2-2 and then winning 4-2. Along the way, Lionel Messi notched a hat trick, taking his seasonal total to 43 goals. Thirty-one of those came in La Liga, making it the seventh year that he passed the 30-goal mark in La Liga, which is simply absurd, like most of his career.Plenty has been written about this Double-winning season. It’s worth reminding ourselves how it started: the traumatic departure of Neymar, calls for Jose Maria Bartomeu’s impeachment, Ousmane Dembele’s long-term injury, Philippe Coutinho only arriving in January — whichever way you spin it, Ernesto Valverde deserves massive credit in squeezing the most out of this team. The fact that he screwed up so royally against Roma (and, perhaps, was fortunate against Chelsea the round before) doesn’t change his body of work. Managers get things wrong; the clever ones, though, learn from their mistakes. The fact remains that this Barca side, starting at a very low ebb, won the Double and is undefeated thus far in the league.Conventional wisdom has it that Valverde took Barca in a different direction, making them more solid and efficient. That may be true but they’re still on pace to finish with 96 points, which would be their third-highest total ever. That defensive solidity might also be a bit of a myth depending on your vantage point. They’re on pace to concede just 23 goals, which would be their third-lowest total in the past decade. But in terms of expected goals conceded, they’ve given up nearly one a game, which is marginally worse than the past two seasons and substantially worse than 2014-15.Their priorities now seem pretty obvious. Lock up Samuel Umtiti to a long-term deal. Continue to figure out how to best integrate Dembele and Coutinho. Develop a succession plan for Sergio Busquets. Another striker and another central defender for depth wouldn’t be bad either.Whichever way you put it though, few would have predicted this nine months ago…
Buvac situation comes at awful time for Liverpool
Liverpool were held to a scoreless draw by Stoke on Saturday morning, but the real news from Anfield this weekend came on Sunday, with news that Jurgen Klopp’s right-hand man, Zeljko Buvac, would not be involved with the club for the rest of the season. Buvac is a former teammate of the Liverpool boss and the pair have worked side-by-side for most of the past 17 years. Klopp himself said on several occasions that Buvac was the “brain” of the operation.The club said Buvac was spending time away for “personal reasons” and dismissed reports of tension between him and Klopp.It’s always tough from the outside to judge how important an assistant coach is to a team. What we do know is that Buvac wasn’t just the guy with long, jet-black hair who sat next to Klopp; he had a big role on the training pitch, often running sessions directly. We also don’t know the circumstances: “personal reasons” can mean just that or they can be PR-speak for something more serious and some media were speculating that he had grown distant from Klopp in recent weeks.Whatever the case, we’re 72 hours away from Liverpool’s biggest European game in a decade, the return semifinal against Roma, and the club need this like they need a hole in the head right now.
Wenger’s final game at Old Trafford
The ESPN FC guys react to the pleasantries exchanged between Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho before the encounter between Arsenal and Man United.
With Manchester United having pretty much locked up second place (and thinking ahead to the FA Cup final) and Arsenal with little to play for (and thinking ahead to the Europa League semifinal), Sunday’s 2-1 home win at Old Trafford was almost as anticlimactic as any clash between these two that you can remember.I say “almost” because it was Arsene Wenger’s last appearance at the home of United. Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho, two guys with whom he’s had tons of acrimony in the past, greeted him warmly. I’m not a mind-reader; I don’t know what they really think of him. When you’re as fierce a competitor as those two, odds are the past sticks.Cynics will be cynical, but I like to think those poses were genuine. Those three are in a very special club of men who have worked in football at the highest level in the most exposed jobs. They may not like each other, but there’s a common bond that remains unbreakable.
Real take it easy against Leganes
Real Madrid only have eyes for the Champions League at this stage, which is why we saw a team chock-full of reserves (with Casemiro at center-back no less) defeat Leganes on Saturday. It finished 2-1 with goals from Gareth Bale and Borja Mayoral.The only real question is who will join Cristiano Ronaldo in the front three on Tuesday night, especially now that Karim Benzema doesn’t feel as indispensable as he once did. It’s anyone’s guess, but if Isco is fit (he returned to training Sunday), I’d imagine he’d go with Isco and Marco Asensio.
Where does Unai Emery go after PSG?
Last week, Unai Emery announced he will step down as Paris Saint-Germain boss at the end of the season. He will leave the club having won five of six major domestic trophies. (OK, technically he hasn’t won the French Cup yet. PSG are in the final against a third-tier side called Les Herbiers. I’m assuming they’ll win given that Les Herbiers actually beat just one team above them in the French pyramid on their run to the final. That and the fact that if he loses this game, he may as well retire).You wonder what’s next for him and how the marketplace sees him. After all, he’s still the guy who won three straight Europa League titles at Sevilla, and while those Champions League exits hurt him (as does the title not won last season), it’s worth noting they came against Real Madrid and Barcelona, the latter with rather controversial officiating.My guess is he’ll have to dial it down a notch with his next job, which may actually suit him just fine. Some people struggle working at the very top.
Can Chelsea get into the top four?
Antonio Conte picked Olivier Giroud ahead of Alvaro Morata (not for the first time) and Chelsea squeezed out a 1-0 victory over Swansea, their third straight away win in the Premier League.The victory does keep alive their (flimsy) hopes for a top-four finish. They will obviously need to run the table: beating Liverpool and Huddersfield at home and Newcastle away. Tough, but not impossible. They’ll also need Liverpool to drop points against Brighton at home on the last day of the season, and that’s where things get interesting.On paper, Brighton are relatively safe and might have nothing to play for, but given that their next two games are against Manchester City and Manchester United, they may need a point at Anfield. Equally, Liverpool may want to rest players ahead of the Champions League final.
Depay is the man in Lyon
Lyon are absolutely on fire in Ligue 1, driven by a Memphis Depay who is back to where he was ahead of the 2014 World Cup. The Dutch international has scored in each of the past six games, and Lyon have won seven in a row.Too often we mistake bad performances for lack of talent. Talent was never Depay’s problem at Manchester United: it was consistency and decision-making. This is the player Louis Van Gaal bought and that United fans didn’t get to see.
Man City’s attack takes many forms
In some ways, it’s perhaps self-fulfilling. Manchester City scored more goals than everybody else in the Premier League so it stands to reason that there would be more City players near the top of the assist table.But still, it’s pretty remarkable to see this list, with the top four spots all occupied by City players (Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane, David Silva and Raheem Sterling). It speaks to City’s scoring, sure, but also to the way they play and spread the chances.
European league champions and European qualification 2017-18
:13 AM ETDale Johnson
A comprehensive list of all the possible European qualifiers and relegated teams across the major leagues.
Champions League: Manchester City (champions, Carabao Cup winners), Manchester United (also FA Cup finalists), plus two of Liverpool (also Champions League finalists), Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea (also FA Cup finalists).
Europa League group stage: Two of Liverpool (also Champions League finalists), Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea (also FA Cup finalists), Arsenal
Europa League second qualifying round: One of Arsenal, Burnley, Everton
Relegated: Three of West Brom, Stoke, Southampton, Swansea, Huddersfield, West Ham, Crystal Palace, Brighton, Watford, Bournemouth
Promoted to top flight: Wolverhampton Wanderers, plus one of Cardiff and Fulham. Aston Villa and Middlesbrough in playoffs along with one of Derby, Preston or Millwall; one then promoted to the Premier League
Champions League: Barcelona (champions, Copa de Rey winners), Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid (also Champions League finalists), plus one of Valencia, Real Betis
Europa League group stage: Two of Valencia, Real Betis, Villarreal, Getafe, Sevilla, Girona, Real Sociedad
Europa League second qualifying round: One of Real Betis, Villarreal, Getafe, Sevilla, Girona, Real Sociedad, Celta Vigo, Eibar, Alaves
Relegated: Malaga, Las Palmas, Deportivo La Coruna
Promoted to top flight: Three teams to be promoted (five games remaining plus playoffs)
Champions League: Bayern Munich (champions, also in DFB Pokal final), plus three of Schalke, Borussia Dortmund, Hoffenheim, Bayer Leverkusen, RB Leipzig, Eintracht Frankfurt
Europa League group stage: Two of Schalke, Borussia Dortmund, Hoffenheim, Bayer Leverkusen, RB Leipzig, Eintracht Frankfurt (also in DFB Pokal final), Stuttgart, Borussia Monchengladbach, Hertha Berlin
Europa League second qualifying round: One of Hoffenheim, Bayer Leverkusen, RB Leipzig, Eintracht Frankfurt (also in DFB Pokal final), Stuttgart, Borussia Monchengladbach, Hertha Berlin, Augsburg
Relegated: Cologne, plus one of Hamburg, Wolfsburg, Freiburg, Mainz. Also one of Hamburg, Wolfsburg, Freiburg, Mainz and Hannover in relegation playoff.
Promoted to top flight: Fortuna Dusseldorf, plus one of Nurnberg and Holstein Kiel. Arminia Bielefeld, Jahn Regensburg and VfL Bochum outside chance of making playoff.
Champions League: Juventus (also in Coppa Italia final), Napoli, plus two of Roma, Lazio, Inter Milan
Europa League group stage: Two of Roma, Lazio, Inter Milan, Atlanta, AC Milan (also in Coppa Italia final), Sampdoria, Fiorentina
Europa League second qualifying round: One of Inter Milan, Atlanta, AC Milan (also in Coppa Italia final), Sampdoria, Fiorentina
Relegated: Benevento, plus two of Hellas Verona, Chievo Verona, SPAL, Cagliari, Crotone, Udinese, Sassuolo
Promoted to top flight: Empoli, plus one of Parma, Frosinone, Palermo, Venezia, Bari, Cittadella and Perugia. Six teams also in playoffs for one place in Serie A
Champions League: Paris Saint-Germain (also Coupe de la Ligue winners and in Coupe de France final), plus one of Lyon, Monaco, Marseille
Champions League third qualifying round: One of Lyon, Monaco, Marseille
Europa League group stage: Two of Lyon, Monaco, Marseille, Saint-Etienne, Rennes, Nice, Les Herbiers (if Coupe de France winners)
Europa League second qualifying round: One of Saint-Etienne, Rennes, Nice, Montepellier, Bordeaux, Nantes, Guingamp
Relegated: Two of Metz, Lille, Troyes, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Caen, Angers. Plus one other in relegation playoff
Promoted to top flight: Reims, plus one of Nimes, Ajaccio. Two other teams will enter promotion playoffs
Champions League third qualifying round: PSV Eindhoven (champions)
Champions League second qualifying round: Ajax
Europa League third qualifying round: Feyenoord (KNVB Beker winners)
Europa League second qualifying round: AZ Alkmaar, plus one of FC Utrecht, Vitesse, Heerenveen, PEC Zwolle and ADO Den Haag via playoffs
Relegated: FC Twente, plus Sparta Rotterdam in relegation playoffs along with one of Roda JC Kerkrade, NAC Breda
Promoted to top flight: Fortuna Sittard. In promotion playoffs: NEC, De Graafschap, Telstar, Emmen, Cambuur, Almere City, MVV, Dordrecht
Champions League: One of FC Porto, Benfica, Sporting CP (also in Portuguese Cup final)
Champions League third qualifying round: One of FC Porto, Benfica, Sporting CP (also in Portuguese Cup final), Braga
Europa League group stage: One of FC Porto, Benfica, Sporting CP (also in Portuguese Cup final), Braga, Desportivo das Aves (if Portuguese Cup winners)
Europa League third qualifying round: One of FC Porto, Benfica, Sporting CP (also in Portuguese Cup final), Braga
Europa League second qualifying round: One of FC Porto, Benfica, Sporting CP (also in Portuguese Cup final), Braga, Rio Ave, Maritimo
Relegated: Two of Estoril, Pacos de Ferreira, Vitoria de Setubal, Feirense, Desportivo das Aves, Moreirense, Belenenses
Promoted to top flight: Two teams promoted, four games remaining. Nacional favourites to be promoted
RUSSIAN PREMIER LEAGUE:
Champions League: Two of Lokomotiv Moscow, Spartak Moscow, CSKA Moscow, Zenit St Petersburg, Krasnodar
Champions League third qualifying round: One of Lokomotiv Moscow, Spartak Moscow, CSKA Moscow, Zenit St Petersburg, Krasnodar
Europa League group stage: One of Tosno or Avangard Kursk as Russian Cup winners
Europa League third qualifying round: One of Spartak Moscow, CSKA Moscow, Zenit St Petersburg, Krasnodar
Europa League second qualifying round: One of Spartak Moscow, CSKA Moscow, Zenit St Petersburg, Krasnodar
Relegated: SKA-Khabarovsk, plus one of Tosno, Anzhi Makhachkala. One of Amkar Perm, Rostov, Dynamo Moscow, Akhmat Grozny, Rubin Kazan also in relegation playoffs
Promoted to top flight: Two of Yenisey Krasnoyarsk, Orenburg, Krylia Sovetov Samara. One of Tambov, Baltika Kaliningrad also in promotion playoffs
UKRAINIAN PREMIER LEAGUE:
Champions League: One of Shakhtar Donetsk, Dynamo Kiev (both in Ukraine Cup final)
Champions League third qualifying round: One of Shakhtar Donetsk, Dynamo Kiev (both in Ukraine Cup final)
Europa League group stage: One of Vorskla Poltava, Zorya Luhansk, FC Mariupol
Europa League third qualifying round: One of Vorskla Poltava, Zorya Luhansk, FC Mariupol
Europa League second qualifying round: One of Vorskla Poltava, Zorya Luhansk, FC Mariupol, Veres Rivne
Relegated: One of Stal Kamianske, Chornomorets Odesa, Zirka Kropyvnytskyi. One of Karpaty Lviv, Olimpik Donetsk, FC Oleksandriya could also be in relegation playoffs
Promoted to top flight: One of Arsenal Kiev, FC Poltava, Inhulets Petrove, Desna Chernihiv. Two teams will also enter promotion playoffs
Champions League first qualifying round: Celtic (champions, also Scottish League Cup winners and in Scottish Cup final)
Europa League second qualifying round: Two of Aberdeen, Rangers, Hibernian, Motherwell (in Scottish Cup final)
Europa League first qualifying round: One of Aberdeen, Rangers, Hibernian
Relegated: One of Ross County, Partick Thistle, with the other in relegation playoff
Promoted to top flight: St Mirren, plus Dunfermline Athletic, Dundee United, Livingston in promotion playoffs
DeAndre Yedlin ‘proud’ United States fans so upset after World Cup miss
:00 AM ETDan KilpatrickTottenham Correspondent
NEWCASTLE, England — DeAndre Yedlin has told ESPN FC that he is proud of the way U.S. fans reacted toward the team after its shock failure to qualify for the World Cup, even though much of the response was extremely negative toward the squad.The Newcastle full-back said the “disappointed and confused” response to the disastrous 2-1 defeat to Trinidad & Tobago in October showed fans care about American football, which, he feels, is exactly what the country needs. Yedlin also supported his former Tottenham teammate Harry Kane, who has accused English fans and media of having a “weak mentality” and wanting the national team to fail following criticism aimed at himself and his England teammates.”Obviously everyone gets criticism — that’s life, that’s just the way it is and not just in sport,” Yedlin said, when asked about Kane’s comments. “But as a supporter, your role is to support.”Straight from the get-go, you shouldn’t be speaking negatively about players and speaking negatively about the team. I understand if you’re disappointed about certain things but at the end of the day you’re a supporter of the team and you should be supporting them.”In the U.S., I haven’t experienced anything bad except after [failing to qualify for] the World Cup,” he added. “After that, I got what you’d expect. People were disappointed. People were confused.”It was more on social media than in person. But you expect that and it shows they care. I’m proud — not that we didn’t make it to the World Cup — but I’m proud they showed that kind of reaction. It shows they’re interested in it, they care, they’re invested in it and that’s what we need in America help grow the sport.”The defeat to Trinidad — along with Mexico’s victory over Honduras and Panama’s late winner against Costa Rica — pushed the U.S. out of fourth place in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, ensuring they will miss a first finals since 1986.Now the dust has settled on that devastating night in Couva, Yedlin believes the U.S. were simply complacent against the island nation they are accustomed to beating.He said watching this summer’s World Cup would be painful, before throwing his support behind his country’s joint bid with Mexico and Canada for the 2026 tournament.”I don’t think we were on our game [against Trinidad],” Yedlin said. “We all thought that the chances of us not going through were so slim that we could do whatever we wanted.”Obviously that wasn’t the case. Some other things happened that we couldn’t control in other games. You could say it was unlucky but in the end it was down to us. We didn’t do the job and ended up paying the ultimate price for it.”I’ll definitely watch the World Cup. It’ll hurt, for sure, but I love the sport so it’s not like I’ll kick it off. It’s the World Cup, the biggest event in football, so obviously to not be there hurts but I still have friends and teammates playing in it that I’ll be supporting, so I’m excited to see them play.”I’ll tend to watch the game with guys I know that are playing, but I’m not going to watch every single game.”It’ll be great to have it in America [in 2026] — not only for the players to have a World Cup in their own country but for the country to help build the sport. It’s a sport growing rapidly in America and, although it’s hard to see it from over here, being there and speaking with people like ex-teammates, they say it’s unbelievable how quickly it’s growing.”It’ll be great for the country to help raise the attention to football — or soccer — in the U.S.”The U.S. national team is still without a permanent coach following Bruce Arena’s resignation in the aftermath of the Trinidad defeat, with interim boss Dave Sarachan set to continue until the end of June, taking charge of the friendlies against Bolivia, Ireland and France.Having worked under both Jurgen Klinsmann and Arena, 50-cap Yedlin is aware of the positives that both foreign and American coaches can bring to the role.”With foreign coaches, it’s no secret that the leagues over here — Germany, Spain, Italy — and cultures have been around for a while,” he said. “Historically, they know the game and they have different ideas of the game.”An American coach will usually be coaching in MLS, so the good thing is they’ll know most of the players they’re working with and bring the culture of an American as well.”The stereotype we get is that we’re hard-working, blue collar — and that’s exactly right. We’re a hard working team that tries to put in a shift every game.”
Dortmund “not aware” of Liverpool interest in Christian Pulisic
Matt Reed,NBC Sports 43 minutes ago
The U.S. Men’s National Team’s biggest star has been linked with a big-money move to the Premier League, however, an English side continues to remain coy on the situation.Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund have had an up-and-down campaign in the Bundesliga this season, however, the USMNT winger remains one of the most notable young players in Europe.Liverpool — who reached the UEFA Champions League final on Wednesday — has been one club rumored to have a strong interest in Pulisic due to manager Jurgen Klopp‘s relationship with the America, but Dortmund says it is “not aware” of any such interest.“I am in constant exchange with Jurgen Klopp, but I am not aware of this,” BVB sporting director Michael Zorc said.The Reds currently boast one of the top attacks in Europe with Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane spearheading Liverpool’s front three, so a move for Pulisic could cost the young player playing time on a regular basis.The 19-year-old has scored five goals in all competitions this season, including four in the Bundesliga.More importantly though, Pulisic has appeared in 40 matches for BVB as a regular starter, which likely wouldn’t be the case for him in England.
Insider: USA’s Joint World Cup Bid Likes Trump’s Backing; Real Madrid Not Convinced by Salah
By GRANT WAHL May 02, 2018
President Donald Trump issued a tweet last week supporting the North American World Cup 2026 bid and threatening countries that don’t vote for it. But if you think the unified bid had to do damage control afterward, a high-ranking bid official says that is not the case.Officials from all the North American bid countries are traveling internationally this week, and they say the response to Trump’s tweet from voting countries has been positive, because it shows that the White House wants to host the World Cup and will work with FIFA’s requirements on allowing visas to foreigners coming to the U.S. for the tournament. While the official said they would prefer Trump not threaten other countries, they like the fact that he’s engaged and that he brought up the World Cup bid in Monday’s press conference with the Nigerian head of state.
The U.S. has put together a STRONG bid w/ Canada & Mexico for the 2026 World Cup. It would be a shame if countries that we always support were to lobby against the U.S. bid. Why should we be supporting these countries when they don’t support us (including at the United Nations)?7:39 PM – Apr 26, 2018
Trump’s tweet came after U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro and other bid officials met last week at the White House with officials, including Jared Kushner. FIFA also issued a warning regarding the use of political influence in the bidding process, though did not mention Trump by name.Elsewhere around the soccer world:
REAL MADRID NOT ENTIRELY CONVINCED BY SALAH
I recently reported that a top Real Madrid source said Mohamed Salah would not be going to Madrid this summer. Part of the reasoning, I’m now told, is that while Madrid is intrigued by Salah, there are still some questions being asked at the club on whether Salah is having a career year that might not be repeatable—and whether Salah might be less like Lionel Messi and more like Riyad Mahrez during his career season for Leicester City when it won the title.The sense inside Real Madrid right now is that it would like to see Salah do this again next year if if the club is going to commit in the range of $200 million on a transfer for him.
UEFA NATIONS NOT OPPOSED TO EXPANDED CLUB WORLD CUP
The big topic of conversation between top club executives in Madrid and Rome this week has been about the proposed $25 billion bid from Chinese and Saudi Arabian investors to take over an expanded FIFA Club World Cup that would take place once every four years. The main question is whether UEFA and the big European clubs and leagues will agree to participate in the event.I’m told the sense right now is that none of the top European stakeholders are saying they will refuse to do it, which likely means that if the price is right this new marquee event could end up happening. In fact, some are saying that hosting it might be a good consolation prize for whichever World Cup ’26 bid, the North American bid or Morocco, ends up losing out on that World Cup.
Club World Cup raises serious questions as FIFA considers big-money offers
May 2, 2018att Scott
Nothing calibrates the overwhelming global popularity of football like the sums of money involved, the multi-million dollar transfers and salaries for its superstars or the billion-dollar broadcast deals. But for all the breath-taking amounts being dropped on the game, none of it compares with the seismic $25 billion FIFA’s president Gianni Infantino told the FIFA Council he has been offered by investors interested in the FIFA Club World Cup rights.These suggestions, first revealed in the New York Times last month, corroborated by several senior voices in football and eventually admitted to by FIFA, would potentially be transformative for the organisation’s finances.In the current World Cup cycle, from 2015 to 2018, FIFA budgeted for less than $1.8bn of expenditure on football development, education and governance. The opportunity to raise 14 times that sum at a stroke is understandably attractive to Infantino, who will be standing for re-election in 2019.As such, this is surely a good thing, right? Well, FIFA’s most senior decision-makers — the Council — were far from convinced and gave him short shrift. So Infantino turned instead to a different group of stakeholders. He invited all members of the FIFA Bureau, the presidents of the six continental confederations, to discuss next steps in Zurich on Monday. It is perhaps telling that reportedly only one, Alejandro Dominguez, president of the South American confederation CONMEBOL, turned up. The others delegated the detail to executives instead.
So why haven’t they jumped at the chance?
First there are questions around process. While conveying his suitors’ anxiety for a swift response to their offer — he claimed they had given him 60 days for an answer — Infantino refused to divulge their identities, telling the FIFA Council he is bound by confidentiality agreements. This is a little alarming: good governance dictates that the head of any organization should first consult with his senior stakeholders before making any commitments to third parties, whether around disclosure or otherwise. Binding himself to them while withholding information from his executive board is very poor form.There are also questions of motive. Why would anyone pay $25bn for a competition that has raised $22 million or less in each of the past five years for FIFA, a revenue multiple of 1,000 times?Although the Financial Times has reported that Softbank, the deep-pocketed, tech-investing Japanese bank, is among the entities in the consortium Infantino is talking to, the Club World Cup would never provide anything approaching a return on investment under its current structure. When Softbank paid $34.6bn for ARM holdings, a smartphone chipmaker, in 2017, it was buying a business with annual revenues of $85bn: that investment was worth not 1,000 times current revenues but 0.4 times. Understandably, Softbank has chosen not to comment on the FIFA reports.There are undoubtedly certain properties on the world football landscape that would justify enormous valuations. UEFA generated $5.6bn from its Euro 2016, Champions League and Europa League competitions in 2016. In 2017, the Premier League’s total revenues were $4.4bn. But the Club World Cup is a football and financial irrelevance by comparison.If successful serial investors like Softbank are attracted to it, it is not because they like what they see but because they like what it might become. And that means a wholesale restructuring of the world football landscape, one that would put FIFA’s club competition at the very apex of the pyramid. At least this is what we must assume, because FIFA has been very light on details so far.It said in a statement on Monday: “Today’s discussion took place in a friendly and positive environment with a decision being taken to task a working group to analyse further the relevance and feasibility of staging both competitions. The working group will be composed of the general secretaries of the six confederations and FIFA.”Perhaps Infantino believes the confederations and their general secretaries to be more malleable than the FIFA Council, which had initially been somewhat hostile to his proposal. Indeed, the greatest hostility emanated from the Europeans on the Council: under Infantino’s plan, UEFA’s Champions League competition risks being superseded as the world’s preeminent club competition. Yet as a former general secretary of UEFA himself, Infantino can count on one friendly face at UEFA. His former deputy, Theodore Theodoridis, who masterminded Infantino’s election to the FIFA presidency, will be the loudest voice among the general secretaries on the new working group.Understandably, the European clubs that would have most to lose have expressed profound concerns about the direction FIFA is taking football. Richard Scudamore, the Premier League’s executive chairman and chairman of the World Football Leagues lobby group, has already put his misgivings in writing to FIFA. It is extremely rare for Scudamore to be exercised about anything that does not directly affect his competition, so it does feel like there is a lot at stake here and the reason for that is the perverse structure of the world football economy.Any economic landscape has three basic elements, or factors of production: land, labor and capital. In football, the labor element consists of the players, the capital comes from broadcasters and sponsors while the land resides in the clubs and their stadiums. All well and good. Except that in football there is also a fourth major element: the regulator, FIFA. And at the same time as being the regulator, FIFA is also an economic actor.For four weeks every four years, FIFA prevents most organized club football taking place and takes the best of the labor element contracted to clubs, using them for its own commercial ends in the FIFA World Cup. This is akin to the Federal Communications Commission closing down all media channels in the U.S. for a month every four years while cherry-picking the best shows from Netflix, HBO, NBC and wherever else it fancied and broadcasting them entirely for its own commercial gain. We all love the World Cup, of course, but from the standpoint of economics, that’s what is going on.What if that regulator were to intervene in the football economy to act not in its own interests as, ostensibly at least, the not-for-profit custodian of global football development, but in the interests of commercial third parties? What would that mean for the integrity of the game?These are big questions. If savvy investors are offering FIFA $25bn for what is currently little more than a sporting irrelevance, it is because they believe in the power of FIFA as regulator to shift football’s tectonic plates in its own favor. And should it start down that path, there will be some almighty earthquakes along the way.
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