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

2 Comments

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.

“Ronaldo, Messi too old to play for us” say Bundesliga club

Barcelona's Lionel Messi,foreground, escapes Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

RB Leipzig currently sits top of the Bundesliga and they’ve taken the German soccer scene by storm.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars

They’ve also upset plenty of traditionalists in Germany with the Red Bull energy drink company bankrolling their rise through the German leagues and after being founded in 2009, just seven years later they are top of the Bundesliga, three points clear of Bayern Munich after 13 games of the season.

Now, Leipzig may have upset Cristiano Ronald and Lionel Messi.

Speaking to the Associated Press, the man who has been plotting Leipzig’s success since 2012, sporting director Ralf Rangnick, had the following to say about Messi and Ronaldo hypothetically signing for Leipzig.

“It would be absurd to think that it could work with them here,” Rangnick said. “They are both too old and too expensive.”

Wow.

Ronaldo is 32 and Messi is 29 and both seem to have at least five or more years left in the tank for Real and Barca respectively.

However, Rangnick’s comments are perhaps more about the make up of Leipzig’s team which is the youngest in the Bundesliga and as the architect of this squad he has purposefully constructed a strong youth element which has helped his side rise from the fourth division and up into the German top-flight.

RB Leipzig is widely disliked in Germany for being owned by Red Bull who have spent huge sums of money, and now they’ve just blown their chance of ever signing Ronaldo or Messi.

Oh wait, they didn’t want them anyway…

One man takes blame for Swansea’s poor season

SWANSEA, WALES - DECEMBER 20:  Swansea Chairman Huw Jenkins (C) attends the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and West Ham United at the Liberty Stadium on December 20, 2015 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Huw Jenkins has been with Swansea City through the good times and the bad.

He is blaming himself for the recent bad spell.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

The long-time chairman of the Swans — Jenkins was part of a consortium which saved the south Wales club back in 2002 when it was teetering on the brink of extinction — has been at the forefront of their incredible rise from the fourth-tier to the Premier League plus becoming League Cup winners and also competing in the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa League.

Yet, this season Swansea’s progress has stalled as they currently sit two points adrift at the foot of the Premier League table and three points from safety with a massive relegation six-points against Sunderland at the Liberty Stadium coming up this Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

Speaking about their struggles, Jenkins put the blame squarely on his shoulders.

“I fully understand their feelings, being a supporter myself,” Jenkins said. “When things don’t go well somebody has to take the blame and I fully accept the responsibility. But let’s not forget there’s a long way to go this season, and we’ve got a lot of choices to make between now and then to make sure we survive in this league.”

The local businessman has told it like it is, as well as admiting some errors with player recruitment over the summer as both Andre Ayew and Ashley Williams were allowed to leave and you easily argue they weren’t sufficiently replaced at the Liberty Stadium.

All of this has led to current manager Bob Bradley (he replaced Italian coach Francesco Guidolin after the Swans picks up just four points from their opening seven games of the season) reportedly already being under pressure, as a report in the Daily Telegraph suggested that a huge review is currently taking place at the request of American owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levein who took sole control of the club in July.

Jenkins, who has been left in control of day-to-day matters by Kaplan and Levein, has also been taking plenty of stick from the fans for selling 8.2 percent of his 13.2 percent stake in the club which allowed the Americans to take their holdings up to 68 percent and take full ownership of the club. The local businessman made himself just over $10 million in the process which angered many. All is not well on and off the pitch in south Wales right now.

With Bradley’s team conceding 19 goals in his seven PL games in charge so far, the obvious area where they have to improve is in central defense. If given time, there’s no doubt Bradley can improve that but the most concerning thing for the Swans is the quality of players, especially defenders, they currently possess.

Until that changes (i.e. acquistions in the January transfer window) then Bradley’s hands are tied.

Jenkins believes the club will be able to spend big in the upcoming transfer window and boy will Swansea need to do some shrewd, and extensive, business if they’re going to drag themselves out of trouble and up the Premier League table.

The good news out of all of this is the next six games are pivotal in their season. Between now and Jan. 2 Bradley’s side face Sunderland, West Ham and Bournemouth at home, plus have trips to West Brom, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace. All of those games are against direct relegation rivals and quite simply the Swans must win at least three or four to give themselves a fighting chance of staying up.

Report: Alexis Sanchez offered $505,000 per week to play in China

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal celebrates scoring his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on September 24, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

This is outrageous.

Alexis Sanchez, 27, has reportedly been offered a contract worth over $505,000 a week (that’s around $26.2 million a year) to play in China.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

The Daily Mail claims that several clubs from the Chinese Super League have already reached out to Sanchez and have offered the huge contract to try and entice him to play in China.

With just 18 months left on his current contract at Arsenal, the Chilean forward is in the form of his life with 11 Premier League goals in the opening 14 games of the season. That included a hat trick in the 5-1 demolition of West Ham last weekend which underlined just how important “El Nino Maravilla” is to the Gunners.

Reports on Tuesday claimed that both Sanchez and Mesut Ozil (the latter also only has 18 months left on his current contract) want over $370,000 per week from Arsenal if they’re going to sign new deals. That would put them in line with the top earner in the Premier League, Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, but it is believed the Gunners do not want to break their wage structure and pay any player over $252,000 per week.

In truth, in world soccer right now only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are above Sanchez with the Chilean forward strutting his stuff out wide and up top in a center forward role.

Ronaldo is currently paid $34.3 million per year by Real Madrid and Messi is paid $42.9 million a year by Barcelona. So, you can see why Sanchez’s head is being turned as he continues to churn out world-class displays for Arsenal and huge offers are coming his way.

With Arsene Wenger‘s future uncertain as his contract runs out at the end of this season, if he can’t entice Sanchez and Ozil to remain at the Emirates Stadium by this summer then Arsenal will have to think about selling both of their attacking superstars or else they’ll lose them for nothing in the summer of 2018.

And when it comes to China there’s no real surprise that this kind of money is being offered to Sanchez, if the reports are true.

Over the past 12 months a huge influx of foreign stars have joined the CSL with China’s President Xi Jinping a huge soccer fan and eager to not only grow the domestic game but links with European clubs and also develop top players for the Chinese national team moving forward with world-class facilities popping up and soccer is now on the school curriculum nationwide too.

Graziano Pelle. Jackson Martinez. Hulk. Ramires. Alex Teixeira. They’ve all joined the CSL in recent years on huge wages. Is Sanchez the next man to make the move if Arsenal can’t pay him what he wants, and probably deserves?

Man United announce squad for crunch Europa League clash

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 29: Memphis Depay of Manchester United in action during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Burnley at Old Trafford on October 29, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jose Mourinho has named his 19-man squad for Manchester United’s final group game in the UEFA Europa League.

There are some surprising omissions.

[ MORE: Europa League schedule ]

Both Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin aren’t included in the squad for the game at Zorya Luhansk in the Ukrainian city of Odessa, as Zorya cannot play games in their home stadium due to the ongoing conflict with Russia in eastern Ukraine.

United need a draw to guarantee their passage into the Round of 32 in the Europa League but a defeat to Zorya would see the Red Devils crash out of Europe’s second-tier club competition.

With Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw out injured they haven’t traveled, plus Bastian Schweinsteiger is ineligible after not being registered for the tournament and veterans Michael Carrick and Antonio Valencia have been rested. It is the exclusion of Memphis, Schneiderlin and Matteo Darmian which will raise eyebrows and it suggests they have no future at Old Trafford under Mourinho.

[ MORE: Europa League standings ]  

Plenty of teams such as Everton and Fenerbache have already shown interest in signing Memphis on loan in January and the Dutch winger is way down the pecking order in Mourinho’s forward options. As for Schneiderlin, with Pogba’s arrival, Ander Herrera‘s good form and even Schweinsteiger getting some minutes recently, his time at United looks up.

Darmian also looks set for a move with Timothy Fosu-Mensah preferred for this trip and it is telling that Memphis, Schneiderlin and Darmian are all seen as some of the biggest disappointments of Louis Van Gaal‘s era. Mourinho obviously wants to clean house and he is sending them the message loud and clear that they aren’t needed, even if he doesn’t say it publicly.

Below is the full squad for United’s trip to Ukraine, which kicks of at 1 p.m. ET on Thursday.

Man United squad vs. Zorya Luhansk: De Gea, Romero, Johnstone; Fosu-Mensah, Jones, Bailly, Rojo, Blind, Young; Fellaini, Herrera, Pogba, Lingard, Mata, Mkhitaryan; Martial, Rashford, Rooney, Ibrahimovic.