Porto's Moutinho celebrates his goal with Gonzalez during their Champions League soccer match against Malaga at the Dragao stadium in Porto

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


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.

Report: Guardiola to take manager’s job at Man City next season

Pep Guardiola, Bayern Munich

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Manchester City desperately want to lure Pep Guardiola away from Bayern Munich and pay the Spaniard tactician lots and lots of money to come manage in the Premier League.

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Of course we’ve all heard it before — a number of times, in fact. So, what’s different about the latest report, hitting the headlines very late Thursday night in Europe, linking the 44-year-old to Man City?

Well, apparently, we’ve moved past “Man City will offer Guardiola whatever he wants to come to the Etihad Stadium,” and arrived at “Guardiola has agreed terms to become manager at Man City.”

However, the respected Spanish radio station Cadena COPE is reporting that Guardiola has already decided he would like “a change of scenery” and will succeed Manuel Pellegrini at the Etihad Stadium.

“Pep Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich at the end of this season and will train Manchester City next season,” read the report.

“Guardiola has decided on a change of scenery. He considers his time in Germany will end on 30 June after three seasons and, therefore, fulfil one of his wishes: to coach in England.”

With all due respect to every player Man City have signed in the last decade, the acquisition of Guardiola would be, by far, their greatest coup to date — a manager with a clear ethos, a clear plan of action and a track record of having succeeded and won in the UEFA Champions League, which remains the most elusive trophy to City’s cabinet.

Mourinho-Costa feud could mean January transfer activity for Chelsea

Diego Costa & Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC
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Perhaps no man in the footballing world has been embroiled in more controversy this season than Jose Mourinho, who remains in charge of Chelsea despite a horrid start to the club’s 2015-16 Premier League campaign.

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The Portuguese mastermind has fallen out with a number of his own players and staff this season, so why not add another name to the growing list? Come on down, Diego Costa, you’re Mourinho’s next combatant.

The two reportedly got into a heated locker-room exchange following Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Given Costa’s increasingly poor form all the way back to the final weeks and months of the 2014-15 season — just seven goals scored in the last 10 months — Mourinho is reportedly less and less sure the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard is the right man to lead the line for the reigning PL champions.

The details of Mourinho and Costa’s halftime spat, from the Guardian:

Mourinho, just as he did after a similar situation against Norwich on Saturday, made his frustrations clear at the forward’s lack of anticipation over an Eden Hazard pass, which would have provided the striker with a tap-in had he been on the move. Costa returned his manager’s remonstrations in kind. Oscar and John Terry tried to calm him down only to be pushed aside. The manager subsequently suggested there had been “a few kisses, a few cuddles” in the dressing room at the interval, and “no problem,” though the public show of dissent was notable.

The club’s hierarchy is reportedly considering dipping into the transfer market in January — something they’re extremely loath to do — to replace the misfiring Costa. The names of Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin Van Persie and Saido Berahino are the biggest currently linked with the Blues, given the lack of elite players typically available — as well as not being cup-tied in the Champions League — during the January window.

Chelsea, who currently sit 15th in the PL, return to league action on Sunday when they visit Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane (Watch live at 6:30 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

Wenger expects “hunting lion” Sanchez to be fit for Norwich clash

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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Alexis Sanchez is, by regular human standards, questionable for Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Norwich City on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on Live Extra), thanks to a tweak to his hamstring during Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb.

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There’s just one problem with the above premise: Sanchez, according to manager Arsene Wenger, isn’t exactly human; he’s more like a lion, says Wenger — a hunting lion chasing after and feasting on its prey.

Wenger, on Sanchez’s ability to recover quickly and star for the Gunners — quotes from the Guardian:

“When he does something, he does it 100%. He finishes and you think: ‘He’s dead now.’ But then he recovers and gives 100% again. You always see signs of exhaustion but it’s not [that], because two days later, he’s fine.

“His style is very explosive, it’s a very committed style. Jamie Vardy is a bit similar. When they go, they go. They are like the lion. He has to catch the animal in the first 200 metres. If he doesn’t get there, he’s dead [on his feet] afterwards. They are these kind of killers. When they go, it is to kill and after, they have to stop.”

“I take information, especially from the medical people who know him and treat him everyday and after, we look at his overall recovery as well. When there are alarming signs, we want to make the right decision at the right moment but as long as the guys are confident, they score goals – it is always difficult to rest them.”

Sanchez’s production this season — 9 goals, 4 assists in 17 appearances – all competitions — is right on par with his spectacular debut in the PL last season. “What is also remarkable is that he goes to South America to play,” Wenger went on to say. “He comes back on Thursday night and on Saturday he can play without a problem, even if he’s jet-lagged.”

Expect Sanchez to feature on Sunday, and probably to score a goal or two, as well.

“Unprofessional” Grealish banished to U-21s after nightclub incident

Jack Grealish, Aston Villa FC
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2015 has been an eventful calendar year for Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, to say the least.

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First, there was his emergence as a prominent first-team player for his boyhood club; followed by the Villans’ run to the FA Cup final in May; then came the England-versus-Ireland tug-of-war for his international services; a forgettable vacation to Spain for the 20-year-old; and another managerial change at Villa Park. After yet another off-field incident last weekend, in which Grealish was photographed in a nightclub hours after a 4-0 defeat to Everton, his new manager, Remi Garde, has labeled Grealish “unprofessional” and sent him away to train with the club’s U-21 side.

Garde, on Grealish’s actions and subsequent punishment — quotes from the Guardian:

“This is not professional. It is not what is expected from my players. That is why now Jack is training with the under-21 team for the moment. He won’t be included in the squad for Watford. At this stage he is not playing this weekend and he is training with the under-21 team. That is all I can say for the moment.”

“Sometimes players in every country ask to stay in the city we have played in and this is not a problem for me, it happens one or two times a season. The problem with Jack was not that he wasn’t on the bus. The problem was elsewhere.”

Villa, who will welcome 13th-place Watford to Villa Park on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on Live Extra), currently sit rock bottom in the Premier League (5 points from 13 games), five points away from climbing out of the relegation zone.