Offshore drilling, UEFA Champions League: at FC Porto 1, Málaga 0

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The match was arguably more lopsided than the simultaneously played game at the Emirates, though you wouldn’t be able to tell by the scoreline. Against a visiting Málaga team that set up to merely survive the Dragão, Porto kept 63 percent of the ball and outshot their opponents 18-2. Helton, their goalkeeper, never had to make a save, but when Mark Clattenburg’s final whistle blew, the 1-0 lead the Portuguese champions won was little more than holding serve. That’s the minimum a team’s supposed to get at home.

Based on how he set up his team, Málaga boss Manuel Pellegrini will be happy with that result. In fact, he should have anticipated it, though he undoubtedly would have loved to get out of Portugal with a clean sheet. Keeping his defensive midfielders Jeremy Toulálán and Manuel Iturra deep throughout the night, Pellegrini wagered Porto wouldn’t be able to move through what is a stalwart to defense under normal circumstances.

Ultimately, Pellegrini’s wager paid off. On Tuesday, despite almost never venturing forward, Málaga only sprung one leak. The 1-0 may not have been the result they wanted, but it was a result they could live with.

Their one leak came in the 56th minute when Porto holder Fernando ventured forward before putting a pass from the left flank behind central defender Martín Demichelis. Midfielder Joao Moutinho blew unmarked past Málaga’s two-man midfield and onto the ball, one timing it between Willy Caballero’s legs from 10 yards out for the game’s only goal.

Málaga can live with that blemish, taking a one-goal deficit back to the Rosaleda for the second leg. Porto, on the other hand, is in a more interesting position, not really knowing what they have. Clearly, they have a one-goal lead, but set to go on the road against a team that won their Champions League group, do they really have an advantage?

Given Málaga’s strength throughout the season has been in prevention, not scoring, Porto may be encouraged, but whether they believe they can keep a clean sheet in Spain dictates how they’ll approach the second leg.

Man of the Match: So you’re Daniel Levy, chairman of Tottenham Hotspur. You almost had a deal for Joao Moutinho in the summer window, but the paper work didn’t get sorted out, somebody knocked over the fax machine, somebody’s cell phone battery died – who knows. The deal didn’t go through, but in the back of your mind you’re already planning to ring Porto president Jorge Pinto da Costa in May and get the deal done.

If you’re Levy, you can’t feel great seeing Moutinho put in performances like tonight’s, possibly driving up his value. Sure, there’s a debate to be had as to whether Moutinho’s value’s going to go any higher, but he certainly didn’t diminish it on Tuesday. Great movement running at the Málaga line. Passing as accurate and reliable as ever. Spectacularly dangerous corners, and the match’s only goal. It was a complete (if somewhat uncontested) performance.

What team in the world wouldn’t want a Moutinho? Maybe he doesn’t play every day at a place like Barcelona, but are you telling me he doesn’t improve teams like Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, or even Juventus?

Maybe you are, and if so, Daniel Levy has to be hoping other chairmen are thinking like you. Because if they’re thinking like me, Moutinho’s probably not going to end up at White Hart Lane.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Not every first leg is amazing – Every once in a while we get a Arsenal-Bayern or a Shakhtar-Dortmund, but for the most part, first legs of Champions League ties are cagey affairs. If you’re lucky, you get a couple of goals, as we did last week at the Bernabeu. Most of the time, you get a match like today’s.

But look at it from Málaga’s point of view. Manuel Pellegrini probably sees his side as the better team but not overwhelmingly so. If he can take one half of the 180-minute game — the half where he’s at a disadvantage — and drastically reduce the number of opportunities, fast forwarding the game to leg two? He’ll take that.

Don’t blame Pellegrini. Blame the competition format. The approach makes sense, but as a result, we get a lot of flat first legs.

Would James have mattered? – Vitor Perreira elected to start Colombian dynamo James Rodriguez on the bench, giving Russian Maxim Ismailov the start at left wing. Ismailov offers a more direct option, but he’s doesn’t have Rodríguez’s skill on the ball. Against a team that sat deep and kept the game in front of them, Rodríguez would have provided  some needed creativity, something that may have brought a quiet Jackson Martínez into the game.

There’s a reason for his absence. James came back from a month-long absence this weekend against Beira-Mar but only played about 20 minutes. That opened the question as to whether he would be ready for today’s game. Perreira brought him off the bench against Málaga, but left with two wingers who tended to turn-and-go on the outside (Ismailov and Silvestre Valera), James would have made a welcome difference. His playmaking ability could have gotten more out of Moutinho, Lucho Gonzalez, as well as Martínez.

Málaga clearly needs to change it up – Obviously, Pellegrini isn’t going into leg two with the same conservative approach, but even if his team somehow finds itself up 2-1 going into the last half hour, he needs to do something different than what he did today. At the start of the second half, Perreira was allowing Fernando more license to get forward. Right back Danilo was releasing as soon as Porto regained possession. Center half Nicolas Otamendi even ventured forward once.

Porto had adjusted. They started pushing people forward and playing a numbers game against Málaga’s packed in defense. If Pellegrini takes the lead on March 13, he’ll need to give Porto a different look.

Packaged for takeaway

  • Had their Champions League games not been scheduled for the same day as Bayern and Arsenal’s, Málaga’s matches would have been a good showcase for Willy Caballero – a chance for more people to see a goalkeeper that’s becoming one of La Liga’s best. Unfortunately, even if you tuned in today, you wouldn’t have seen many of Caballero’s talents, Málaga effectively limited his exposure to Porto’s attacks. In the first half, however, you could see how quick and decisive Caballero is off his line, one of the plus-talents he’s shown during the Primera campaign.
  • Former Mexican league start Jackson Martínez was one of the players to watch coming into this tie, but a packed in Málaga defense kept the Porto star from threatening goal. To his credit, he moved out of the cluster in the middle and started combining with Porto’s wingers, but the former Jaguares star was still neutralized on Tuesday. As easy way for Porto to get to the quarterfinals is by getting something out of the man who has scored 20 times in 19 league games.
  • Because of the way Pellegrini played, Málaga star Isco was also quiet. He’ll need to be more of a factor in Andalusia. If it wasn’t for the fact he’s a completely different player, you could consider him Málaga’s Jackson. Regardless, both teams will look to get more out of their star.
  • Julio Baptista was a mild surprise, starting with Roque Santa Cruz in place of Javier Saviola, but he held up well. The former Real Madrid and Arsenal man went 78 minutes in his first Champions League appearance since Oct. 2010. It was The Beast’s fourth game this month after 16 months on the sidelines.

Deportivo wastes penalty kick, remains winless under Seedorf

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MADRID (AP) — Clarence Seedorf remained winless as Deportivo La Coruna coach after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league on Friday.

Deportivo squandered chances including a second-half penalty kick taken by Lucas Perez. Its winless streak reached 10 games in all competitions.

It was the third game in a row without a victory since Seedorf took over to try to avoid relegation. Deportivo was 18th in the 20-team standings, in the relegation zone.

In addition to the missed penalty, Deportivo twice hit the posts in front of a supportive crowd at Riazor Stadium. The players left the field applauded by the local fans despite the setback.

Perez’s penalty attempt was saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 65th minute. Lopez, who earlier this season stopped a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, dived to his right to stop Perez’s low shot.

The match marked the Deportivo debut of veteran Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari. He played alongside Seedorf at AC Milan, and was signed this week after a trial period.

Espanyol, 15th in the standings, hasn’t won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Espanyol’s last league win was in January, seven rounds ago.

Barcelona defends its seven-point lead in the standings when it hosts Girona on Saturday. Second-place Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla on Sunday.

Conte says he believes in his selection regarding Willian

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Antonio Conte has lashed out at anyone questioning why Brazilian winger Willian hasn’t played regularly until recently, saying

“Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench?” Conte fired back at reporters when he was asked about Willian’s earlier lack of playing time at his pre-match press conference ahead of Chelsea’s match on Sunday against Manchester United.

[ MORE: Heynckes squashes Lewandowski to Premier League rumors ]

“I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?”

The 29-year-old has made 29 Premier League appearances, but only 13 starts. He started in the midweek Champions League match against Barcelona and not only scored Chelsea’s only goal but also proved their most incisive player, prompting questions about his selection.

“Now he is playing because he deserves to play, not because there is some regret from the past,” Conte said. “For what? If a player deserves to play, and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, [he will] stay on the bench, stay in the stands.”

Instead of saying he wishes Willian had played more earlier in the season, he praised himself for giving the Brazilian the start at the appropriate time.

“He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice. Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I did a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that.”

EFL Cup Final preview: Arsenal, Manchester City fight for different types of glory

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  • These two clubs have never met in a major Cup final
  • With a win, Arsene Wenger would become the 8th PL manager to win all 3 major English trophies
  • Sergio Agüero has scored in all of his last 4 appearances against Arsenal

For Manchester City, it’s the first step of a potentially record-setting season. For Arsenal, it’s the Gunners’ best chance at securing a trophy.

The two teams are fighting for very different levels of glory as the two meet at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Manchester City, despite losing to Wigan in the FA Cup just a week ago, would still be on track for a Double this season with a win against the Gunners. Meanwhile, Arsenal is outside the Premier League top four, and – as they have done each of the past two seasons in the FA Cup – could salvage an otherwise disappointing league season with a major Cup trophy.

Both teams will be struggling with selection in certain areas. Manchester City is likely missing Raheem Sterling, who could sit out due to an unspecified muscle injury according to Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference, while Fabian Delph is suspended after his sending off against Wigan in the FA Cup. That means either Danilo or 21-year-old Oleksandr Zinchencko would start at wing-back. Zinchenko is the likely candidate there, having appeared in four of City’s five EFL Cup games this season so far and playing almost every minute of those four matches. Gabriel Jesus, who missed more than two months with a knee injury, could be ready to make his early return. Claudio Bravo will continue to play in goal for the domestic Cup competitions.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is without new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan who is cup-tied to his previous club Manchester United, while Alexandre Lacazette is not yet recovered from his knee injury suffered in the North London derby, and Mesut Ozil could miss out with an illness. The Gunners are likely, however, to get Aaron Ramsey back in midfield after recovering from a groin injury, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can return to the lineup after his own cup tied absence in the Europa League midweek.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on playing Arsenal twice in a week: “We will be happy if we win, sad if we don’t but after the game we have another match against Arsenal. We are going to try and maintain our level, but finals are different, it is not what you have done in the past.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on playing Manchester City: “Manchester City have so many players that you think you have to stop that it is better to focus on the team plan than rather than on any individual. It’s true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it’s an opportunity. We’ll play with all the regular players.” 

Prediction

Arsenal has often come up big in hotly contested Cup matches, despite poor form in the surrounding competitions, so it would not be surprising to once again see Arsene Wenger hoist a trophy on Sunday to temporarily distract the fanbase and media from larger struggles. However, picking against this Manchester City team would be selection suicide, even after their disappointment against Wigan and considering the absence of under the radar star Raheem Sterling. Manchester City wins 3-1 with a pair of late goals to sink the Gunners, with a newly healthy Gabriel Jesus providing an influential injection off the bench in the final 20 minutes. Pep Guardiola raises another trophy at the site where he won the 2011 Champions League.

Heynckes squashes Lewandowski rumors after Premier League rumors

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The English media – mainly the tabloids – has had a field day over the last 24 hours with rumors of a Robert Lewandowski move to the Premier League claiming, but the Bayern Munich manager is having none of it.

Jupp Heynckes told the German press during his pre-match press conference on Friday ahead of the club’s Saturday match against Hertha Berlin, “I can’t imagine there is a chance [the club executives] will sell Lewandowski.”

“Bayern is not a selling club,” Heynckes went on to proclaim. “They want to, and always will want to, keep their top players.”

The reports stated that Lewandowski was “flirting” with a move to the Premier League, and that while Manchester City and Chelsea were the more logical destination, Liverpool was actually the preferred landing spot as the Polish international was open to a reunification with former boss Jurgen Klopp, whom he worked with at Borussia Dortmund before his switch to Allianz Arena. Lewandowski’s contract at Bayern Munich currently runs through 2021, leaving the player with little say over his future.

While the rumors seem like a long shot, what does make sense is that, at 29 years old, Lewandowski doesn’t a ton of time left to convince a Premier League club he’s worth a heavy investment for the next couple of years. Many top teams – most notably Arsenal – are hesitant to sign players over 30 years old, and would be even less inclined to pay a hefty transfer fee for a player without a long future ahead of them. Manchester United just paid a cut-rate price for Alexis Sanchez, and while that was largely due to Arsenal’s position of weakness regarding the expiry of Sanchez’s contract, Sanchez’s age also partially contributed to that knocked down transfer rate.

Nonetheless, Bayern’s sale history is minimal, having only offloaded surplus players, such as defender Medhi Benatia this past summer, Mario Gotze back to Borussia Dortmund the summer before, and Xherdan Shaqiri to Stoke City in 2015.