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Dominant Bayern Munich expose gap between themselves, Juventus

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Perhaps we got a little too caught up in the Juventus mystique. Or maybe as fans who are used to a strong Serie A, we’re still coming to grips with Italy’s regression. A closer examination of Juve’s fixture list would have told us the Bianconeri had yet to be tested by a true Champions League-contender, yet we convinced ourselves: This one was going to be close.

Then again, Tuesday could have just been a bad day. And this tie is far from over. Yet after 90 minutes in Germany we’re at a loss, left to brainstorm possible for explanations after the Old Lady’s performance in Munich, a 2-0 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich that could have been much worse.

If Gianluigi Buffon wasn’t good for seven saves and some key decisions to clean up balls sent into his area, this would have ugly. And if Bayern had been more clinical with their myriad chances, this tie would be over. But as it stands, Juventus are fortunate to be heading back to Italy with their European hopes on life support.

(MORE: Messi injury leaves PSG-Barca open to interpretation.)

Worst start possible

All our pre-match talk about Bayern needing to execute went out the window within a minute. That’s when a shot from 30-plus yards beat one of the world’s best keepers, leaving us to debate how much blame Buffon should shoulder.

On one hand, there’s almost never a reason to allow a goal from that distance, particularly when you’re not screened. If the ball isn’t some kind of Roberto Carlos rocket, you’re out of excuses. From half way between the center line and the edge of the area, world-class goalkeepers should adjust to all but the most aberrational scenarios.

Yet when you see replays from behind the goal, David Alaba’s shot looks like an aberration. Though it wasn’t well hit, the Bayern defender’s shot was hit strangely, the ball buckling in mid-air before diving toward the lower right hand corner. By then, Buffon had already committed to a shot that looked to be headed to his right. Caught off-balance as the ball broke, Buffon couldn’t get back across goal.

source: Getty ImagesAt best, Buffon’s footwork should have been better. He shouldn’t have had so much of his weight over his right foot with the ball still so far out.

At worst, it’s one of the bigger howlers of his career, the timing of which allowed Bayern to take early control of the match.

(MORE: Highlights of Bayern’s cruis past Juve.)

Pressure, counter, threaten

That control allowed Bayern to play without the ball, rely their high pressure to disrupt Juventus, and try to beat the Old Lady on the counter – a plan that worked exquisitely. Juventus conductor Andrea Pirlo lacked his usual influence, meaning Claudio Marchisio, Fabio Quagliarella, and Alessandro Matri were kept out of the match. Forced into turnovers, Juve promoted Bayern’s counters, with Arjen Robben and Frank Ríbery constantly able to threaten when they got the ball behind the 3-5-2’s wingbacks.

As the match went on, Juve’s possession advantage faded. In addition to hogging chances, Bayern was starting to hog the ball. They finished with 55 percent possession after the Old Lady’s number had been around 60 for most of the first half. Bayern also held a 22-8 edge in shots and a 9-2 advantage in chances on goal.

And Bayern were able to accomplish this without arguably their best player. Early in the first half, attacking mifielder Toni Kroos left the game with what was later reported as multiple muscle tears in his left thigh. The midfielder’s season may be over.

In his place, Jupp Heynckes brought on Arjen Robben and moved Thomas Müller into the playmaker’s role in his 4-2-3-1, a move that only made things worse for Juventus. Müller gave Bayern another player who could play closer to goal, while Robben gave FCB a second pacey attacker to exploit the spaces left by the three-man defense. With Bastian Schweinsteiger capable of distributing from deep midfield, Bayern was setup to probe the weaknesses of Juve’s setup.

(MORE: Three goals in 15 minutes close PSG-Barça – Highlights)

Changes pay off for second goal

The benefits of Bayern’s changes were evident on their second goal. In the 63rd minute, Robben was able to gain territory down the right before pulling back and playing to Luiz Gustavo 22 yards out. The midfielder’s shot on goal was pushed to Mario Mandzukic, who played back across the six-yard box for Müller. The open net gave Bayern their much-needed second goal.

source: ReutersIf Müller were still wide, he might not have headed for the byline, as Robben is apt to do. Müller tends to cross from deeper, when he crosses at all. If he’d pulled up farther from the byline, Gustavo may not have had room in front of a collapsed midfield. Even if Gustavo did get a shot off, who would have been there to provide an option for Mandzukic?

Down the road, however, Kroos’s loss is sure to prove costly. Among the many strong seasons Bayern’s received from their stars, Kroos’s may have been the strongest. Though Müller can play behind the striker, he lacks Kroos’s playmaking abilities. He’s also less apt to drop back and help link play when another man’s needed deeper.

With eyes toward Italy

Juventus were the underdogs coming into the tie, but nobody expected the gap to be this large. Bayern could have easily put three or four on the Italian champions. That they didn’t is the only reason this tie’s left in doubt, because there was nothing in Juve’s Tuesday form that suggests they’ll have success next week.

But in that terrible display lies a grain of ironic hope. Juventus are not this bad, which makes today’s performance seem like an outlier. Given time to see what went wrong in Munich, they’re unlikely to be as inept in leg two. Perhaps Antonio Conte won’t be so bold as to play his whole team this weekend (as he did on Saturday in Milan). And maybe having been humbled by Bayern, Conte will less be convinced Juve’s modus operandi is good enough.

Expect to see changes next Tuesday, but until we know what those changes are, it’s difficult to assess how likely Juventus is to come back. But no team’s had any real success against Bayern this year. For Juventus to go from terrible to terrific in eight days will require something unpredictable.

Courtois: Chelsea can still win title without Costa

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26:  Thibaut Courtois of Chelsea celebrates his team's second goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on November 26, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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A week from now, Diego Costa may still be a Chelsea player; he may also very well be off to the Chinese Super League by then.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The beauty insanity of the transfer market — and a volatile figure like Costa, in particular — is that no one knows which path he’ll take. After being made to train on his own on Monday, the best anyone can tell you is, “It’s 50-50.”

There aren’t many sides in the world that could stand to lose the league’s top goal-scorer (14 goals in 19 appearances this season; Chelsea have played 21 games) and still win the league title, but Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois believes that the current Blues squad is one that could hold onto its seven-point lead with 17 games remaining — quotes from FourFourTwo:

“Of course we have enough quality to replace Diego. Diego is important for us, but if he’s not there for one game, we know we can handle it as well.

“Was this a message to our rivals? Yes, just to see Chelsea won 3-0 and that loss at Spurs didn’t affect us and we can play without Diego if need be. I think everybody hoped for us to drop points and we didn’t so that was very good.”

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Eden Hazard has chipped in with nine goals of his own this season — his performances have been bordering on brilliance at points — while Pedro and Willian each have five league goals to their name. 19 goals from three secondary-type scorers is what champions are made of, until you consider the only other true striker currently in the squad, 23-year-old Premier League newcomer Michy Batshuayi, has 1) made just 13 PL appearances (all as a substitute); 2) scored just once, all the way back in August.

Louis van Gone: Ex-Man United, Barca boss LvG retires from coaching

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21:  Louis van Gaal Manager of Manchester United celebrates after winning The Emirates FA Cup Final match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium on May 21, 2016 in London, England. Man Utd won 2-1 after extra time.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t supposed to end like this for Louis Van Gaal.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

In his mind, he probably imagine himself manager Manchester United for the duration of his three-year contract before riding off into the sunset after restoring the Red Devils as Premier League champions four months from now. At the very least, he’d agree to stay on one more season to complete a bit of unfinished business after narrowly missing out on the title in his third season in charge at Old Trafford.

Instead, he was fired last May, two days after lifting the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium, and has been out of a job ever since. Van Gaal’s unemployment will now continue for the rest of his days, as the 65-year-old announced on Monday that he has retired from coaching after 26 years at Ajax, Barcelona (twice), AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands (twice), Bayern Munich and Manchester United — quote from the BBC:

“I thought maybe I would stop, then I thought it would be a sabbatical, but now I do not think I will return to coaching.”

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

After the stress put upon his shoulders while at Man United, the last eight months must have felt like heaven to Van Gaal. Why on earth would anyone ever go back?

AFCON: DR Congo go top of Group C with win; Ivory Coast, Togo draw

Congo's Lomalisa Mutambala, right, with Morocco's Faycal Fajr, left, during their African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match between Congo and Morocco at the Stade de Oyem in Oyem, Gabon, Monday Jan. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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A roundup of all of Monday’s action in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations…

Ivory Coast 0-0 Togo

OYEM, Gabon (AP) Ivory Coast’s Europe-based stars stumbled in the heat of northern Gabon in their African Cup of Nations opener, with the defending champion held by Togo to 0-0 on Monday in another twist to start the tournament.

Ivory Coast’s title-winning coach fared worse as Congo beat Herve Renard’s Morocco 1-0 in the day’s second game.

Congo, a team that was on strike and refusing to train two days ago, finished with nine men on the field and on top of Group D.

Ivory Coast created few clear chances against Togo, with Wilfried Zaha‘s blocked shot in the second half after a clever run probably its best. Zaha was substituted two minutes later and, although Ivory Coast pressed hard in stages, it never broke open Togo’s well-drilled defense in the first game in Group C in the northern jungle town of Oyem.

Togo was competitive in the first half and had two good openings with around 10 minutes to go, when Kodjo Laba missed with a header from in front of goal and Mathieu Dossevi’s deflected shot dropped onto the roof of the net.

Four of the first six games at the African Cup have been draws, with Ivory Coast’s fellow title challenger, Algeria, held to 2-2 by Zimbabwe, a team that hasn’t qualified for the African Cup in over a decade. Also, host Gabon couldn’t beat outsider and tournament debutant Guinea-Bissau in the opening game.

“After Algeria-Zimbabwe and Gabon-Guinea-Bissau, we were very careful,” Ivory Coast coach Michel Dussuyer said. “But we still have two (group) matches so we are still confident.”

Togo even started better, and Dossevi was clear on goal in the 29th minute only for Ivorian goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo to smother the chance.

Zaha was at the heart of Ivory Coast’s two best attacks, first in the first half when he sped down the right wing and sent across a dangerous low cross that was scrambled away. Then, in the 68th minute, he tricked his marker with a clever turn, cut inside, and hit a low shot that was headed to goal before two Togo defenders managed to get in the way.

Senegal and Congo are the only teams to win at the tournament.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

DR Congo 1-0 Morocco

Junior Kabananga got the winner for Congo in the 55th minute after a mistake from Morocco `keeper Monir el-Kajoui. Congo’s Lomalisa Mutambala was sent off for a wild tackle in the 81st and played the last six minutes of normal time plus six minutes of injury time with nine men when captain Gabriel Zakuani went off injured with all their substitutes used up.

Still, victory was a major mood-changer for Congo, whose players refused to train on Friday and Saturday, claiming they hadn’t been paid tournament bonuses. They also posted a video on social media during their strike, where they complained about their treatment.

On Monday, Morocco was the one frustrated: Midfielder M’Bark Boussoufa hit the crossbar in the second minute. Goalkeeper El-Kajoui tried to block a cross with his feet and managed only to divert the ball to Kabananga to score the winning goal. Then, substitutes Youssef En Nesyri and Youssef el-Arabi missed late chances.

Although Ivory Coast and later Renard failed their first tests at the tournament, the Stade d’Oyem held up despite a desperate race to be ready in time, which saw workers scrambling around the venue finishing all sorts of jobs on the day of the game. Television viewers won’t have seen the construction debris that surrounds the outside of the stadium, which juts out of dense jungle canopy around 15 kilometers outside of Oyem.

Even organizers couldn’t do anything about the heat during the opening match, though, with Togo coach Claude le Roy’s shirt covered in dark sweat patches after urging his team on to a promising draw against the defending champion Ivorians.

“It was very hot. We were sweating so much,” Le Roy said. “We did what it takes. We are satisfied with the draw.”

Tuesday’s AFCON schedule

Ghana vs. Uganda — 11 a.m. ET
Mali vs. Egypt — 2 p.m. ET

Report: RBNY send McCarty to Chicago for hefty allocation fee

New York Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty reacts towards the fans after an MLS playoff soccer match against the D.C. United, at RFK Stadium, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, in Washington. McCarty scored the only goal and New York won 1-0. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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UPDATE: The Fire and Red Bulls have officially announced the trade. The deal will send $200,000 of allocation money to RBNY in 2017, and $200,000 again in 2018.

Don’t look now, but the Chicago Fire are building something noteworthy in Bridgeview.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Three weeks after signing three-time MLS Cup-winning (LA Galaxy) midfielder Juninho to anchor the midfield in Veljko Paunovic’s second season in charge, the Fire sent a hefty chunk of general allocation money to the New York Red Bulls in exchange for do-everything stalwart Dax McCarty, who’ll partner the Brazilian in comprising one of MLS’s toughest midfield duos.

According to a report on FourFourTwo.com, the Fire will send $400,000 of general allocation money to the Red Bulls, which represents the largest sum of MLS dollars to change hands since the league began announcing figures during the 2017 SuperDraft on Friday (New York City FC traded $250,000 to the Fire in exchange for the no. 3 overall pick, which helped fund the acquisition of McCarty). In total, McCarty made 169 regular-season appearances for the Red Bulls, serving the last two seasons as club captain, and helping the red half of New York to the only two major trophies in club history, the 2013 and 2015 Supporters’ Shields. The 29-year-old (he’ll turn 30 in April) is currently participating in January camp with the U.S. national team.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

The Fire also signed 28-year-old Hungarian striker Nemanja Nikolic to a Designated Player contract last month. Nikolic has nearly 200 goals to his name in 326 career games played.

With seven weeks still to go before First Kick 2017, the Fire’s opening-day starting lineup is shaping up to look something like this…

Nikolic

Accam — De Leeuw — ???

Juninho — McCarty

Vincent — Meira — Campbell — ???

Bava

The Fire might be good this year.