Caballero stones Borussia Dortmund, keeps 0-0 draw for Málaga

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Málaga could be considered lucky to have survived today at the Rosaleda if they didn’t know what they had in Willy Caballero. Along with Atlético Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois, the Argentine veteran has been among the best goalkeepers in Spain this season, so when he saved two one-on-ones in the first half against Borussia Dortmund’s Mario Götze, Málaga may have been more relieved than thankful. Good players make good plays.

That thankful feeling could apply to the entirety of today’s 0-0 in Spain, with Borussia Dortmund finishing their road leg with a valuable draw. Win at home next Tuesday (as they’re always favored to do) and BVB returns to their first semifinal in 15 years, though if they give up a goal, Dortmund will be subjected to the precarious nature of the away goals rule. A score draw next week in Germany, and Borussia Dortmund crashes out.

(MORE: Real Madrid untroubled in leg one vs. Gala)

That’s why Manuel Pellegrini won’t be too upset with today’s result. From a certain angle the draw could be seen as BVB breaking serve, but Pellegrini said before the match that he felt this tie would be settled in Dortmund. He was as concerned with keeping a clean sheet tonight as he was winning the match (perhaps him just being pragmatic with his goals). Undoubtedly, he was preparing his team for this eventuality, meaning today’s result is less of a setback than a point on in a journey. If Málaga can take their typical opportunism to the Westfalenstadion and find the first goal, Pellegrini’s longview approach will have paid off.

But there are things the Spaniards need to address over the next week. They dealt poorly with Dortmund’s high pressure, meaning they need to develop another way to move the ball through the middle third if they’re going to create a goal on Tuesday. At the other end, Málaga’s highest players in defense weren’t able to reciprocate BVB’s intensity, giving the Germans too much time to work while often drawing one of Málaga’s sitters too far (and too aimlessly) into midfield.

Thankfully for Pellegrini, these are issues of tactics, not personnel. For all the advantages Dortmund had on Wednesday, Málaga was still able to pose a number of threats on Roman Weidenfeller’s goal. It’s not difficult to see a couple of tweaks keeping them close enough to take next week’s leg with a set piece or a BVB mistake. They’re certainly in the same league as Dortmund.

But the small gap between Dortmund and Málaga was still crystal clear. As we knew coming into today’s match, BVB is the probably the better side. They’ve got the better players, their system allows them to be more dangerous, and thanks to a tough Champions League group, they’ve already been tested. They’ll rightfully be clear favorites to advance nest week.

Unfortunately for them, their inability to beat Caballero means Pellegrini still has a chance to steal this tie. He may not have BVB right where he wants them, but he has them right where he can beat them.

Pep Guardiola praises Man City’s “animals”

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Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City have set a new English top-flight record with 15 consecutive wins and, of course, comparisons are already being made as to just how good this City side are.

Runaway leaders of the Premier League with an 11-point lead heading into the busy festive period, City are being compared to the great teams in PL history.

Their winning run means they’ve accomplished something none of the other great PL teams have, and it seems like there is no stopping City.

Speaking to the media after the 4-0 win at Swansea on Wednesday which clinched the record, Guardiola praised his players for breaking the record but also their ability to not only excel when they have the ball but to hunt in packs to win it back.

“In history there have been some amazing teams – Liverpool, [Manchester] United with Sir Alex Ferguson, Chelsea with Jose Mourinho. A lot of good, good teams and we are the first ones to win 15 games in a row,” Mourinho said. “Of course that will not make sense if we do not win the title, if we don’t win the title it will just be a record. This record will be broken but it will not be easy. When (my players) don’t have the ball they go to win it like animals. At this level it’s so competitive. That means we are strong in the head.”

Guardiola’s team have made the best start in Premier League history to a season with 49 points from their opening 17 games and 16 wins from those matches.

They’ve scored 52 goals and the duo of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne are controlling the tempo of each and every game they play in, but not much has been said about the tenacity in City’s play to win the ball back.

That quality has always been a hallmark of Guardiola’s teams at Barcelona and Bayern Munich with the fabled “six second rule” mentioned time and time again as he set his players a target of six seconds to win back possession of the ball.

City did that time and time again against Swansea on Wednesday with Silva regaining possession on multiple occasions in midfield and releasing the likes of Sterling and Sergio Aguero to attack.

There is a lot more behind this ruthless City side than just breaking winning and scoring records. Their extreme hunger for success and doing the dirty work was duly noted by Guardiola.

USSF says nominations submitted for 8 president candidates

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CHICAGO (AP) The U.S. Soccer Federation says it received the required three letters of nomination for eight candidates in its presidential election, one fewer than the total of people who announced their intention to run.

The USSF is conducting background checks on the candidates whose nominations were received by Tuesday night’s deadline. The governing body said the check is to ascertain that a candidate has “no conviction or no contest plea to a felony or crime of moral turpitude” and it will announce the candidate slate after completing the process.

[ MORE: Atlanta acquires Nagbe ]

Sunil Gulati, the USSF president since 2006, decided after the Americans failed to qualify for the World Cup that he will not seek a fourth four-year term.

The nine people who announced they are running include former men’s national team players Paul Caligiuri, Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino; U.S. women’s goalkeeper Hope Solo; Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter; USSF vice president Carlos Cordeiro; Boston lawyer Steve Gans; New York lawyer Michael Winograd; and Paul LaPointe, Northeast Conference manager of the United Premier Soccer League.

The election will be held in February.

Madrid rallies to beat Al Jazira, reach Club World Cup final (video)

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Gareth Bale scored an 81st-minute winner as Real Madrid came from behind to beat Emirates club Al Jazira 2-1 on Wednesday and reach the Club World Cup final.

Madrid will try to win its third world title in four seasons when its faces South American champion Gremio on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League Weds. roundup ]

The match had two goals disallowed by video review, one for each team.

Madrid struggled early and allowed the local league winners to open the scoring with a goal by Brazilian forward Romarinho just before halftime.

But Cristiano Ronaldo equalized early in the second half and Bale netted the winner less than a minute after entering the match as a substitute for Karim Benzema.

Paul Clement admits helplessness at facing Man City

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Swansea City manager Paul Clement may have the enduring quote of the season so far when it comes to facing the behemoth that is Manchester City.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

The suffering Swans have had their share of poor performances this season — Clement later said January transfer spending “is a must” if the club wants to stay up — but he’s throwing his hands up in the air when it comes to Wednesday’s loss at the Liberty Stadium.

The man sounds exasperated, and sorry for his team. From the BBC:

“At times it was horrible to be on the sideline watching that, seeing my side trying but suffering for long periods. They’re not the games that will decide our season but it was hard to watch at times because they were so dominant. For me, one of the best sides I’ve ever come across. So many good athletes, so many intelligent footballers and it’s really hard to pin them down. We actually had some attempts on their goal so I’m disappointed we didn’t get on the score sheet but they were a far superior side to us. We’ve got to put it aside that game. We’ve got Everton away (next) and we’ve got to try and pick something up there.”

All that’s left is for Clement to pick up a clarinet, awkwardly blow into it, then point at Pep Guardiola and say, “He’s good.”

Free message board points to the first one to name the reference.