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

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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.

Wenger: Arsenal “complacent, had no ideas” in Ostersunds loss

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Perhaps Sunday’s League Cup final had already reached the forefront of their minds, but Arsene Wenger admonished his players, whom he said were “complacent, not focused” and “had no ideas” for much of Thursday’s Europa League defeat, at home, to Swedish side Ostersunds.

[ MORE: Premier League TV schedule | Man United vs. Chelsea ]

The Gunners advanced to the round of 16 on the back of their 3-0 first-leg victory last week, but Wenger was understandably displeased by the effort he saw and expressed such feelings in no uncertain terms, before quickly easing up and praising the fact they were able to pull back a goal against the current fifth-place team from Sweden — quotes from the BBC:

“We were not at the races in the first half,” said Wenger, who saw his side booed off at half-time and full-time. I think in the second half it was much better and we should have scored a few goals.

“In the first half, we were in trouble and in danger because we were complacent, not focused and were open every time we lost the ball. We had no ideas with the ball and that’s why we were in trouble.

“We responded very well because we did the job to qualify, but that’s what we have to take from the night and that’s all.”

With Arsenal now trailing fourth-place Chelsea by eight points (and seven back of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur), winning the Europa League might just be the Gunners’ last chance at qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

Batshuayi racially abused by Atalanta fans

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Borussia Dortmund striker Michy Batshuayi says he was subject to racist chants from Atalanta fans during a Europa League game in Italy.

The Belgium international, on loan from Chelsea, tweeted:

Dortmund advanced to the round of 16 by drawing 1-1 to beat Atalanta 4-3 on aggregate on Thursday.

The game was played at Mapei Stadium in Reggio Emilia because Atalanta’s home stadium is unsuitable for UEFA games.

There have been several incidents of racism at Serie A matches this season.

Whitecaps defender Tim Parker being tracked by several teams from East

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Tim Parker’s next destination could very well be closer to his hometown, however, other MLS sides are in hot pursuit of the U.S. Men’s National Team defender.

[ MORE: CCL recap — FC Dallas falls, Club America struts its stuff ]

The Vancouver Whitecaps center back has been the subject of trade speculation recently, and Pro Soccer Talk has learned that Parker has turned down a new contract with the Cascadia side that would have kept the 24-year-old in Canada for at least three more seasons.

Multiple sources have told PST that the deal Parker rejected was worth over $1.4 million in totality. Metro New York’s Kristian Dyer was the first to report the story.

Parker was subject to make roughly $99,000 in 2017, according to the MLS Players Union, although he’s expected to receive a significant increase with any new deal that he signs. On an average basis, Parker would have made over $400,000 annually had he signed a new contract with the Whitecaps.

A New York-native, Parker has been looking to return to the East Coast after spending three seasons with the Whitecaps. The former Saint John’s University standout was selected in the first round by the Whitecaps in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, after spending all four years with the Red Storm on the collegiate level.

Sources can also confirm that D.C. United and the Montreal Impact have emerged as the leaders to obtain Parker’s services if a deal is struck with the defender, although a move to the New York Red Bulls hasn’t been ruled out.

The Red Bulls have shown interest in the young defender for some time — and would be the preferred destination for the player — given Parker’s New York roots. A combination of allocation money and a player would likely be needed from the Red Bulls if the Eastern Conference side proved to be serious about pursuing Parker.

D.C. has managed to acquire significant allocation money over recent years, particularly GAM, which would prove to be essential in signing Parker. Ben Olsen’s defense has been built around USMNT center back Steve Birnbaum — who arrived in 2014 — but an addition of Parker would surely benefit a D.C. back line that conceded 60 goals in 34 regular season matches a season ago.

Meanwhile, a move for the Impact would be logical given the fact that the Canadian side lost center back Laurent Ciman this offseason when the Belgian international was traded to expansion side Los Angeles FC.

Police officer dies after fan violence before Bilbao-Spartak Moscow

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BILBAO, Spain (AP) A Spanish riot police officer died of cardiac arrest after clashes involving Russian soccer fans before a Europa League match on Thursday between hosts Athletic Bilbao and Spartak Moscow, raising concerns less than four months before the World Cup in Russia.

Basque Country authorities in northern Spain said the officer died in hospital after the confrontations outside San Mames Stadium in the city of Bilbao, which will host matches in the 2020 European Championship.

Police also said a Russian man was injured but the extent of his injuries was not immediately disclosed. Five people were arrested – three Russian nationals and two Spaniards.

The identity of the dead officer was not immediately disclosed.

Spartak won the match 2-1 but Athletic advanced 4-3 on aggregate.

Earlier Thursday, German police arrested a Russian suspected of seriously injuring a British soccer fan during the European Championship in France two years ago.

The trouble in Spain erupted ahead of the round-of-32 match in the second-tiered European club competition.

Police were escorting some Spartak fans into the stadium but a stray group allegedly started igniting fireworks and throwing flares and objects toward Athletic supporters and police officers.

The fighting spread onto the streets near the stadium and police struggled to restore order. Many fans were seen trying to run away from the trouble as fireworks exploded all around.

There was concern ahead of the match because of the reported presence of `Ultra’ Russian fans in Bilbao, and a large police force was deployed to try to prevent fan trouble.

Six year ago a fan died in Bilbao in clashes after a match between Athletic and German club Schalke.