FC Internazionale Milano v Juventus FC - Serie A

Champions League Preview: Bayern Munich-Juventus comes two rounds too soon


This should be the final. It didn’t occur to us when the draw happened two weeks ago, but given a fortnight to consider the matchup – to consider the styles, history, statures, and implications – this is the type of meeting that should get the full finals’ buildup. It’s Europe’s best team against the squad best situated to beat them, but thanks to the bad luck of the draw, we’re getting Bayern Munich-Juventus in March.

But look at the silver lining: Instead of one, 90-minute, endlessly hyped match, we get 180 minutes.

After Bayern throttled Hamburg on Saturday (and I relish the chance to use the verb “throttle”), there can be no doubt. They’re clearly the best team in Europe – a team that’s capable of putting up nine goals while resting stars for Champions League. A stumble in their last European match hints Bayern may not be able to translate domestic dominance to Champions League success. More likely: The close call against Arsenal served as a wakeup call.

But nothing short of a European Cup will quell the feeling there’s some fragility to this Bayern squad. When you blow a late lead at home in a Champions League final (as Bayern did last May), you have to craft a new memory to replace the old one.

In that sense, Juventus represents more than a quarterfinal. If Bayern can overcome a team with the quality of Italy’s champions, people will rightly assume they’ll be able to handle whomever they meet on the road to Wembley.

But it’s not just Juventus’s euphemistic “quality” that make them such a great test. The Bianconeri’s unique combination of talent, experience, style, and backbone make them a difficult matchup for anybody, and with an unparalleled ability to execute given the slimmest of opportunities, they’re better equipped than anyone to weather Bayern’s storms to strike in the few moments of calm.

Antonio Conte’s team can win matches they seem destined to lose. With three quality central defenders playing above one of the world’s best goalkeepers, Juventus doesn’t have to control games to have a chance to win (even if they often do). They can be patient. They can wait for others’ errors. They can give the impression they’re being pushed around before a piece of Andrea Pirlo precision, a Claudio Marchisio surge, a Fabio Quagliarella song or Alessandro Matri’s resourcefulness eventually breaks through.

You may have thought you were having your way, but with a locked elbow that keeps you at arm’s length, Juventus will finally make you realize: You were playing their game all along.

And with that dynamic, Juventus flips the script. In order to beat them, you have to match their execution. The likes of Mario Mandzukic, Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos and Franck Ríbery will need brilliance over dominance to break though the Juventus defenses. Amid their waves of attacks, they’ll have to string together something special to get on the board against Juve.

And with the first leg at home, München needs that something special as soon as possible. Though they have the talent to get a result in Turin, we still don’t know if this Bayern team has the resolve.

(MORE: Zlatan gets a crack at Pep-less Barcelona)

source: ReutersNotes

  • Jupp Heynckes rested Mandzukic, Müller, and Ríbery during this weekend’s 9-2 victory over Hamburg. With his top two left backs unavailable, he started midfielder Luiz Gustavo at fullback. FCB will look a lot different on Tuesday.
  • Juventus, on the other hand, played almost a full team Saturday against Inter Milan, winning the Derby d’Italia 2-1. It’s a short trip from Turin to Munich (about 280 miles), but it’s also one being made on short rest.
  • If you’re Antonio Conte, you have to be a little worried about a quick turnaround for 33-year-old Andrea Pirlo (right), particularly if Kroos or Bastian Schweinsteiger is tasked with marking Juve’s regista out of the game. Combined with high pressure from Bayern’s attackers, Juventus could have trouble.
  • Consider Bayern’s bench options: Mario Gomez, Arjen Robben, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Claudio Pizarro, who is coming off four goals and two helpers on Saturday. From every angle, this team’s scary.
  • Juventus returns to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2006 when they were eliminated by Arsenal.
  • Both teams can afford to focus on Champions League. Juventus has a nine-point lead in Serie A and hosts last place Pescara between legs. Bayern has a 20-point lead in Germany and need only two more points to clinch the Bundesliga.
  • Each side has a selection quandary in midfield. Does Luiz Gustavo get the nod over Javi Martínez? (Javi Martínez is suspended for Tuesday’s match.) And goes Conte get Paul Pogba into the team while opening on the road?

Possible starting lineups

Bayern Munich (4-2-3-1): Manuel Neuer; David Alaba, Dante, Jerome Boateng, Philipp Lahm; Javi Martínez, Bastian Schweinsteiger; Frank Ríbery, Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller; Mario Mandzukic.

Juventus (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli; Kwadwo Asamoah, Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, Stephan Lichtsteiner; Fabio Quagliarella, Alessandro Matri.

Barcelona, Neymar make it formal: Signed into 2021

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19: Neymar of Barcelona holds off pressure from Raheem Sterling of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League group C match between FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC at Camp Nou on October 19, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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T’s are crossed and i’s dotted on Neymar’s new contract, keeping him at the club through the 2020-21 season.

Neymar, 24, will make his 100th La Liga appearance with his next step onto the pitch.

Lionel Messi’s deal runs through 2017-18, and Luis Suarez’s goes through 2018-19.

[ MORE: Guardiola on Aguero omission ]

He’s scored 59 goals in league play, and has 91 total when you include all 150 of his matches in a Barca kit.

Neymar is on a similar scoring rate to last season, when he netted 31 times. The Brazilian also has 49 international goals in 73 caps.

Guardiola seethes at reports Aguero unwanted at Man City

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Sergio Aguero of Manchester City is congratulated by Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League match between Manchester City FC and VfL Borussia Moenchengladbach at Etihad Stadium on September 14, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Pep Guardiola is seething with reports that claim star striker Sergio Aguero is not in his plans for Manchester City’s future.

Aguero started on the bench for Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League loss at Barcelona, inspiring talk that the Argentine star wasn’t long for the Emirates Stadium.

[ MORE: Conte on Mourinho, Pogba ]

Guardiola says that’s garbage, and that he simply needed more midfielders for his attack. Next time, just ask.

From the BBC:

“It was a tactical decision. I wanted one more midfielder, I tried to keep the ball in the Camp Nou and when you have the ball, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez don’t.

“I spoke with Sergio and he was understanding, I thought in the last 30 minutes, with the Barcelona centre-halves tiring, he could help a lot from the bench. When Sergio decides to leave it will be his decision. Next time before you (the media) decide he is not in my plans you can call me.”

Still, not using Aguero is risky business.

The striker believes, rightly, that he’s among the most dangerous players in the world. Guardiola has said as much, too.

While few would put him in the class of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s difficult to imagine either being sat for tactical reasons against one of the best teams in the world.

Chelsea: Conte expects warm reception for Mourinho; Terry is fit

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  A fan wears a Chelsea scarf with the image of the club's former manager, Jose Mourinho before the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Watford at Stamford Bridge on December 26, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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The managers are meeting the media ahead of this week’s Premier League matches, and many eyes are trained on one specific match-up.

Chelsea and Manchester United meet on Sunday, the first time Jose Mourinho will manage against his old side since his unceremonious exit last winger.

[ USWNT: Holiday has tumor removed ]

Mourinho, of course, led Chelsea to the 2014-15 title only to see a miserable start to the following campaign. He was hired at Manchester United this summer, but Conte thinks Mourinho’s Chelsea laurels have earned him some love from Stamford Bridge.

“I have great respect for Mourinho. He deserves a good reception. He was an important man for Chelsea and wrote part of the club’s story.”

Conte also touched on Paul Pogba‘s decision to head back to Old Trafford. Pogba is coming off a starring role in United’s 4-1 win over Fenerbahce, and Conte guided the French midfielder during their time at Juventus.

“It was Paul Pogba’s dream was to return to Manchester United. I wish him well, but only after this game.”

Conte said John Terry is available to return for Chelsea, and that could be invaluable against a big, strong forward like United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic. With the Red Devils having played Thursday, Conte will like his chances a bit more than usual.

Canada vs. U.S. among top-notch CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals

VANCOUVER, CANADA - JUNE 20:  Gershon Koffie #28 of the Vancouver Whitecaps brings the ball up field against Dax McCarty #11 of the New York Red Bulls at B.C. Place on June 20, 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jessica Haydahl/Getty Images)
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The bracket is set for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, and ensures that at least one MLS vs. Liga MX semifinal will happen next Spring.

No. 1 seed New York Red Bulls will cross the continent to meet No. 8 Vancouver Whitecaps, with the winner moving on to face the victor of Mexico’s Tigres UANL vs. Pumas UNAM.

[ VIDEO: Previewing all 10 PL matches ]

The possibility of an all-Liga MX or all-MLS final still exists, with Pachuca and FC Dallas on opposite sides of the bracket. Arabe Unido gives Panama hope for its first CCL semifinalist, while Saprissa can be Costa Rica’s first semifinalist since 2011.

Of the remaining teams, only Pachuca has won a title in the CCL era (2008-present). Tigres lost in the 2016 final, the only other team to make it that far.

Full schedule
New York Red Bulls (1) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (8)
Tigres UANL (4) vs. Pumas UNAM (5)
Arabe Unido (2) vs. FC Dallas (7)
Pachuca (3) vs. Saprissa (4)

The first legs will be played in late February, and the bright side to the intra-league quarters will be one MLS side waiting a round before facing a more in-form club playing a traditional season schedule (though that’s an overblown excuse at this point).

Some fans don’t care much for the tournament, while others — myself included — are extremely keen to see an MLS team win the CCL and represent North America in the Club World Cup, where it can get a high profile litmus test in a serious competition (Real Madrid beat Cruz Azul 4-0 in a 2014 semifinal).