Looking back on a great week for Germany

1 Comment

The German Bundesliga has no shortage of fans, and because of its clubs’ relative financial stability and an ownership paradigm that requires supporters own clubs (the 50+1 rule), the league may be the most admired circuit in the world. Yet as far as the competitive qualities of its clubs, the Bundesliga has generally been thought of as trailing the English Premier League and Spain’s Primera Division, even if many feel its quality has passed Italy’s Serie A.

Over at ESPN FC, renown Bundesliga expert Uli Hesse notes this week’s showing from German clubs in Europe – a slate of results comprised by six wins and a scoreless draw – may be the first signs of a continental breakthrough:

Anyway, as you can see, this European week was anything but normal, so one hesitates to imbue this string of good results with deeper meaning or relevance. Perhaps it was just the kind of coincidence that statistically has to happen one day.

But – whisper it – maybe it’s really indicative of the long-awaited and predicted Bundesliga resurgence on the European stage. In the past ten seasons, only two German clubs have reached a European final (Bayern and Bremen) and that’s clearly unacceptable.

I have called the resurgence “long-awaited and predicted” because our clubs have been saying for many years that they will sooner or later reap their just rewards for not spending more than they have as it’s only a question of time until the ruinous system in Spain or Italy has to collapse like a house of cards.

Milan embody Italy’s problems. One of the circuit’s marquee clubs, the 2010-11 champions are mired in quicksand amid reports the club’s holding company wants the team to stand on its own two feet financially. That the team wasn’t able to reinvest all the money from their Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva sales exemplifies Italian teams “[reaping] their just rewards.”

As Hesse alludes, however, this week’s results may only be a hint of what’s needed: Progress toward actual titles. I say that as somebody that doesn’t value titles that much – if three German teams make the Champions League semis yet none win the trophy, that’d be a great show of strength for the league. But this is about others’ standards, not mine, and by those standards, German teams need to start making a bigger impact in Champions League.

As the article alludes, there’s a theory behind Germany’s lack of success in Champions League: “financial doping.” Paris Saint-Germain and Zenit St. Petersburg have bought in ways German clubs won’t, and they’re only playing catchup to the perpetual big spenders in England, Spain, and (to a diminishing extent) Italy.

As Hesse notes, money may not have been the issue. It may have been experience.

But if it isn’t a levelled playing field that has boosted the Bundesliga’s performance, what is it? Well, maybe having paid your dues. Needless to say, Dortmund’s learning curve is quite pronounced, but there are also teams like Hannover 96 and Schalke, who managed to get a considerable amount of European games under their belt last season. I’m not a big friend of the Europa League (who is?), but its bloated and drawn-out schedule at least gives you plenty of practice under floodlights.

It’s something to think about, as is the rest of Hesse’s piece. Regardless of the alchemy that’s producing it, Germany does appear to be translating it’s of-field buzz into on-field success. For now. Best to check back in March to see which of their upstarts have managed to navigate a Champions League knockout round.

LIVE, FA Cup: Wigan host Manchester City

Getty Images
Leave a comment

All conquering Manchester City head to third-tier Wigan Athletic on Monday (Kick off, 2:55 p.m. ET) to keep their quest of a legendary quadruple alive.

[ LIVE: Follow Wigan v Man City here

Pep Guardiola‘s men are 16 points clear atop the Premier League summit, while they are virtually through to the last eight of the UEFA Champions League and are in the League Cup final against Arsenal at Wembley on Sunday.

Can anyone stop them?

Wigan stand in their way with the Latics promotion favorites from the third tier who have already beaten Premier League teams Bournemouth and West Ham United to reach the last 16.

The winner will host Southampton in the quarterfinal for a place in the semifinal at Wembley Stadium, and City’s fan will be feeling a little nervous heading into this game.

Why? They played Wigan in the FA Cup final in 2013 and lost 1-0 after a last-gasp header from Ben Watson sealed one of the greatest upsets of all time to hand the Latics their first-ever major trophy. Wigan also beat City in the FA Cup quarterfinals in 2015, the last time they met in this competition.

Surely Guardiola’s boys won’t be on the end of another upset this time, especially with this starting lineup…

Click on the link above to follow the action live, while we will have analysis and reaction from the final FA Cup fifth round clash right here at Pro Soccer Talk.

Italy VAR chief: Incidents to be shown on stadium screens

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Decisions which have been changed on video review could soon be shown on the giant screens in Italian stadiums, offering soccer fans more clarity.

[ MORE: Juve, Napoli keep winning

The video assistant referee system was introduced in Italy at the start of the season and has been criticized for leaving supporters in the stadiums blind sometimes as to what is happening on the pitch or why a decision has been changed.

The head of the project in Italy, Roberto Rosetti, told Radio Anch’io Sport on Monday: “Probably in a few months’ time we’ll be able to see on big screens in the stadiums images of the decisions that have been changed and why they have been changed.”

Rosetti admits they need to “improve on the uniformity of both interpretation and intervention” but says the positive effect of the VAR can clearly be seen by “the drastic reduction in bookings for protests and anti-sporting behavior.”

Spurs “have the capacity” to win the Champions League

Getty Images
Leave a comment

We know. They just drew 2-2 away at Rochdale in the fifth round of the FA Cup. We know.

[ MORE: Dele Alli and the diving debate

But Tottenham Hotspur’s last 2-2 draw was much more impressive as they went to Juventus and outplayed the reigning Italian champions in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

Heading into the second leg at Wembley on Mar. 7, it appears that new signing Lucas Moura, who scored their opening goal against Rochdale on Sunday, is a fan of what he’s seen in his short time at Tottenham.

Speaking to reporters after his first goal for Spurs on his full debut, Moura has high hopes for his time in North London.

“I am 25 years old but I think I gained a lot of experience with PSG and I think I can help Tottenham. I think we have a lot of quality and a great structure and can arrive at the end of the season with a trophy. The Champions League is the most difficult cup but I think we have the capacity to win it if we always think in positives and always work hard,” Moura said, via the Guardian.

“We did a big game against Juventus away. It was a good result in Italy and I am sure we can do a good game with our fans and continue. It’s always important to win. Every player wants to win trophies, to make history and I am here to make history with my new friends, my new team-mates. I believe that because we have a lot of quality, a great structure – I am really impressed – and I think we can dream with the Champions League.”

Does Moura have a point? Aside from a weakened side struggling away at Rochdale on a freshly laid pitch, they’ve been superb in recent months.

And given the current form of Harry Kane and the entire Spurs team there won’t be a single club who says “you know what, let’s take Spurs” if they make it through to the last eight of the UCL.

The high-pressing style of Mauricio Pochettino saw them bully Juve away from home and all of a sudden it seems like the rest of Europe has woken up and realized just how good they are.

If injuries are kind to Spurs and Moura continues to show flashes of brilliance since his arrival from PSG in January, the Brazilian could well be on to something. Tottenham are by no means favorites to win the Champions League, but their recent results against Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool prove they are a force to be reckoned with.

Top Chelsea v. Barcelona moments

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ahead of Chelsea hosting Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg, let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?

And boy, we have a lot of golden moments to choose from between these clubs as they’ve meet in the UCL knockout rounds on five previous occasions.

[ MORE: Man United, Chelsea in UCL action

In recent years Barcelona against Chelsea has become essential viewing whenever they meet and Tuesday at Stamford Bridge will be no different as Lionel Messi looks to score for the first time ever against the west London club after firing blanks in all of his previous eight encounters.

From epic semifinal goals, to late drama and heartbreak, below is a look at some of the greatest moments in European history between these two clubs.


1. Fernando Torres‘ goal at the Nou Camp sends Chelsea to the UCL final in 2012

Down to 10-men and trailing 2-0 on the night and 2-1 on aggregate, Chelsea looked doomed after John Terry was sent off in the first half at the Nou Camp. Then Ramires pulled a goal back in the first half with a fine lob, before Lionel Messi hit the post and struck a penalty kick against the crossbar as Barca couldn’t find the all important third goal. With everyone pushed forward, one long punt up the pitch found Fernando Torres late on and he rounded Victor Valdes before slotting home (last goal in the video below) to make it 2-2 on the night and send Chelsea onto the final in Munich against Bayern. They once again recorded another improbable win in the final to secure their first-ever European trophy on penalty kicks and this comeback against Barca, against all the odds, proved it was written in the stars.


2. Andres Iniesta’s last-gasp strike at Chelsea sends Barcelona to the UCL final in 2009

Barcelona went to Stamford Bridge after being held to a 0-0 draw at the Nou Camp in the first leg and they went 1-0 down, with Chelsea seemingly heading into the UCL final. Then, late on the ball found Iniesta on the edge of the box and his perfect finish sent Barca to the final where they would beat Manchester United to be crowned European champions. A wild night of celebrations in Barcelona ensued and Iniesta added yet another glorious moment to his legendary career.


3. Chelsea squander 3-1 first leg lead, fall 6-4 on aggregate in UCL quarterfinals

What drama. Stamford Bridge was rocking as Chelsea beat Barca 3-1 in the first leg of their quarterfinal with two goals from Tore Andre Flo and a fine free kick from Gianfranco Zola and everybody believed they’d make it through to the last four of the Champions League. Umm, probs not. Luis Figo and Rivaldo each scored in the second leg as they looked to be sending Barca through on away goals, but Flo hit back to give Chelsea another advantage. Dani Garcia then scored seven minutes from time to take the game to extra time and Barca scored twice in the first half of extra time to make it 6-4 on aggregate and seal their passage to the final four. One of the greatest quarterfinal clashes in UCL history.