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

2 Comments

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.

Sydney FC to face Melbourne Victory in A-League final

Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images
Leave a comment

SYDNEY (AP) Sydney FC will face the Melbourne Victory in next weekend’s grand final of Australian football’s A-League after the top-ranked teams won contrasting semifinals.

[ MORE: Spurs revel in North London rule, but want more ]

While Sydney was as dominant as it has been throughout a 27-match regular season in its 3-0 win over Perth on Saturday, Melbourne needed a 70th-minute goal from striker Besart Berisha to advance with a 1-0 win Sunday over Brisbane.

Josh Brillante, Jordy Buijs and Filip Holosko scored first-half goals as Sydney continued a seemingly unstoppable drive towards its third A-League title – and its first since 2010. The video referee interceded in two of the goals, making the win contentious, but Sydney still demonstrated superiority over the young, confident and ambitious Perth side.

Sydney lost only once in 27 regular-season matches and will enter the final as a considerable favorite.

Berisha sank the hopes of his former club, Brisbane, with his late strike in Sunday’s second semifinal. While the margin was small, the Victory deserved to win after playing more assertively throughout the match.

Its semifinal victory means that the teams that finished first and second at the end of the regular season will contest the final for the fifth straight year. The final repeats the 2015 showdown between Sydney and Melbourne, which the Victory won 3-0.

Hoffenheim reaches Champions League qualifiers for 1st time

AP Photo/Michael Probst
Leave a comment

BERLIN (AP) The youngest coach in the Bundesliga, 29-year-old Julian Nagelsmann, has steered Hoffenheim to a place in the Champions League qualifiers in the club’s best ever season.

Hoffenheim could even secure its first appearance in the Champions League group stage if it holds on to third place – where it now stands after Benjamin Huebner scored in the last minute to snatch a 1-0 home win over Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday. It has three more matches to play this season.

Huebner’s late goal, a powerful header to Sebastian Rudy’s corner, moved the side one point above Borussia Dortmund, which was held to a scoreless draw at home by Cologne on Saturday.

The goal was scored by the son of Frankfurt sporting director Bruno Huebner.

“A lucky win,” acknowledged Hoffenheim backer Dietmar Hopp, the software billionaire whose finances helped his hometown club progress from minor leagues to the Bundesliga.

A co-founder of the SAP software giant, Hopp became the first private owner of a Bundesliga side when he took a majority stake in Hoffenheim in 2015. By then he had already spent an estimated 350 million euros on the team.

However, Hoffenheim’s best appointment to date appears to be that of Nagelsmann, who took over in February 2016 after Huub Stevens stepped down for health reasons.

Then 28, Nagelsmann hadn’t even earned his coaching credentials from the German football federation (DFB). But he saved the side from relegation and Hoffenheim is enjoying its best ever season this year.

The win over Frankfurt extended its unbeaten run at home to 16 games and ensured it beat its previous best-mark of 55 points from the 2008-09 season.

As a player, Nagelsmann lined up for Bavarian sides Augsburg and 1860 Munich before turning his attention to coaching. He spent almost a decade coaching the youth sides of 1860 Munich and then Hoffenheim, for which he was also assistant coach in 2012-13.

Earlier this year, Nagelsmann was named the German football federation’s coach of the year for 2016.

Dortmund hosts Hoffenheim next weekend for a game that is likely to decide which side goes into the qualifiers and which secures automatic qualification for the Champions League.

AUGSBURG 4, HAMBURGER SV 0

Hamburger SV slipped closer to its first ever relegation in a humiliating defeat at fellow struggler Augsburg.

Hamburg, the last founding member of the league to have played every season since its formation in 1963, was left in the relegation playoff place with three games remaining.

“We’re all affected by the performance we showed today,” Hamburg coach Markus Gisdol said. “We were hoping for something different. But we’ve got over other setbacks before and have to deliver the best in the next game.”

Hamburg goalkeeper Tom Mickel and the left post denied Augsburg early on before Halil Altintop fired the home side ahead, midway through the first half.

Altintop scored another before the break, set up by Philipp Max, to give Augsburg some breathing space.

Michael Gregoritsch reacted with a brutal challenge on Dominik Kohr, for which the Hamburg midfielder was fortunate to escape with a yellow card.

Max sealed the result on a counterattack before setting up Raul Bobadilla to complete the scoring late on.

“We could even have scored more goals,” Augsburg coach Manuel Baum said. “But more than three points wouldn’t have been possible.”

Victory lifted Augsburg out of the relegation playoff place and two points above Hamburg, Wolfsburg and Mainz, all level on 33 points. Hamburg, which has conceded a league-worst 59 goals in 31 games, has an inferior goal difference to the other two.

Ingolstadt and Darmstadt occupied the automatic relegation spots. Ingolstadt was four points behind Hamburg, while Darmstadt was all but doomed, nine points behind.

Balotelli, Nice may have spoiled PSG’s title chances

Leave a comment

Monaco took care of business at the top of Ligue 1 on Saturday and now the Champions League semifinalists could be closing in on France’s crown.

[ MORE: Spurs revel in ruling North London, but want more ]

Paris Saint-Germain slipped up on Sunday with a 3-1 loss against third-place Nice, and it could spell the end for the Parisians’ hopes of winning Ligue 1 in 2016/17.

Mario Balotelli sprung Nice in front after 26 minutes with a curling left-footed effort from outside the box, before Ricardo Pereira doubled the advantage for the hosts just three minutes into the second stanza with a lovely curler of his own.

PSG managed to pull a goal back in the 64th minute as Marquinhos gave the visitors a glimmer of hope to keep their title hopes alive.

However, the final minutes of the match took a drastic turn for the worse for PSG as Thiago Motta and Angel di Maria were both shown red cards for violent tackles on Nice players.

Nice also found a third finish after PSG was dwindled down to nine men when Anastasios Donis headed home a lofted cross from the left wing.

With three matches remaining for PSG, Unai Emery’s side sits three points behind league leaders Monaco, who also have a match in hand. PSG finishes up their Ligue 1 account with matches against Bastia, St Etienne and Caen.

Video: Camilo Sanvezzo scores wonder goal for Queretaro

Twitter/@InvictosSomos
Leave a comment

Camilo Sanvezzo scored two goals on Sunday for Queretaro but many won’t even remember the score of the game after his brilliant first effort.

The Queretaro forward scored the first of two finishes in the 66th minute after winning the ball in his own half, carrying it into the Toluca end and unleashing a deadly shot from just inside midfield.

Sanvezzo eventually scored his side’s second goal in the dying minutes of the match, and his 88th minute finish proved to be the winner for Queretaro, who currently sit 13th in Liga MX.

The 28-year-old should be familiar to MLS fans after Sanvezzo’s time with the Vancouver Whitecaps from 2011 to 2013. The veteran scored 39 goals in 92 matches with the Canadian side.