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.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

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I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.