Champions League Preview: Galatasaray visits Real Madrid looking for Turkish breakthrough

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It’s been five years since the Turkish league saw one of its teams make it this far in UEFA Champions League, only back then, when a Chelsea team six months removed from the departure of José Mourinho faced Fenerbahçe, the tie started in Istanbul. An imposing atmosphere at the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium combined with the general uncertainties surrounding Chelsea to create a feeling Fener may actually have a chance, a sense that was vindicated when the Canaries won the first leg, 2-1. Although it was predictable and, for the upset-minded, a bit melancholy when the eventual finalists moved back in front four minutes into the return leg, Turkey’s champions showed the league wasn’t out of its depth in the competition’s quarterfinals.

The same thing happened seven years earlier when Galatasaray became the first Turkish side to make the competition’s quarterfinals. Then, like today, Gala’s opponent was Real Madrid, only whereas this year’s matchup starts at the Santiago Bernabeu, 2001’s quarterfinal began at the old Ali Sami Yen. And just like Fener did against Chelsea, Galatasaray got a first leg win, with three-second half goals giving Mircea Lucescu’s team the 3-2 upset. Gala would go on to lose the return leg, 3-0.

Both teams represented the Super Lïg well in the final eight, but the fact that no other Turkish sides have made it this far hints Champions League’s quarterfinals may be one step too far. The results of the two road legs support that hypothesis, with Chelsea and Real Madrid easily overturning first leg deficits. Had those ties not began in Turkey, the drama may have been extinguished before the sides arrived in Istanbul.

source: Getty Images(MORE: Málaga’s lone edge over Borussia Dortmund.)

That’s the danger of today’s match in Madrid. Mourinho’s Real have recovered from their winter swoon to regain their status as one of the competition’s favorites, a stature affirmed with their Round of 16 ousting of Manchester United. Given the general feeling that this is Mourinho’s last year with the Merengues, there’s more urgency than ever to capture the club’s precious 10th European Cup – la decima. The vindication Mourinho could feel delivering that title after three challenging years in the capital would rival any accomplishment of his professional career.

Galatasaray’s trip to the quarterfinals is less a reflection on contention and more a product of good draws. They were drawn into the weakest group in the competition and needed only to best CFR Cluj and Braga to make the knockout round. There they drew the mercurial Schalke – the weakest of the group winners. When the Miners faltered at home in the teams’ Round of 16 match, Galatasaray had their quarterfinal return.

(MORE, from Tuesday: PSG-Barça inconclusive | Bayern illustrates the gap to Juventus.)

Head coach Fatih Terim knows his team’s the underdog, yet he insists his team plans to go at the powerful Merengues. One goal will not be enough, he says. Though he could play conservatively and try to keep the tie within reach ahead of the return leg in Istanbul, Terim seems set to put his faith in his own attackers. He has the competition’s joint-lead scorer in Burak Yilmaz (eight goals). And he has former Mourinho stars Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder.

What remains to be seen is whether he’ll have better luck than his predecessors taking a Turkish team on the road in the Champions League quarterfinals. Even a goal would be history, let alone a win.

Notes

  • Gala is one of the few teams alive in this competition that have domestic concerns. They’re four up on Fener at the top of the Super Lïg, though the schedule does them a favor this weekend. Terim’s men host last place Mersin İdmanyurdu on Saturday.
  • Remarkably, Real Madrid have a player on their roster who played against Gala 12 years ago, though Iker Casillas is unlikely to see time in this tie. The Real captain has been medically cleared to return from his broken thumb, yet he looks unlikely to reclaim his job from Diego Lopez.
  • Real’s team that lost in Istanbul 12 years ago: Casillas, Salgado, Carlos, Hierro, Karanka, Helguera, Makelele, McManaman, Morientes, Figo, Raul.
  • With two goals this weekend in Gala’s derby with Istanbul BB, Yilmaz is up to 13 in his last 11 games for club and country. This is after the 27-year-old led last year’s Lïg with 33 goals in 34 appearances for Trabzonspor.
  • Real Madrid have not lost at the Santiago Bernabeu in over a year, last falling to Barcelona in January 2012 in Copa del Rey competition. Their unbeaten streak sits at 37.
  • Galatasaray have won three straight Champions League matches on the road: at Schalke last round (3-2) and group stage matches at Braga (2-1) and CFR Cluj (3-1).
  • While Real’s 18 goals in this year’s competition tie them for the lead among quarterfinalists, Gala’s 11 goals are the lowest among the tournament’s survivors.

(MORE, Highlights: PSG-Barcelona | Bayern-Juventus.)

Possible lineups

Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Diego Lopez; Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Alvaro Arbeloa; Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira; Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Özil, Ángil Di Maria; Karim Benzema.

Galatasaray (4-3-1-2): Fernando Muslera; Albert Riera, Dany Nounkeu, Semih Kaya, Emmanuel Eboué; Selcuk Inan, Felipe Melo, Hamit Altintop; Wesley Sneijder; Burak Yilmaz, Didier Drogba.

Preview: Everton v. Newcastle

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  • Everton have won seven of their last eight games v Newcastle
  • Newcastle have won four PL games in a row
  • Wayne Rooney has more goals (15) against Newcastle than any other PL team

Everton host Newcastle United on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Toffees and Magpies both setting pretty in midtable.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game

The Toffees sit in ninth, with Newcastle in 10th and just one point behind Everton with a game in hand. Rafael Benitez has been lauded for taking his newly-promoted side into the top 10 with defensive solidity, while Sam Allardyce has been lambasted for a defensive style of play despite getting Everton out of a relegation fight following his appointment back in November.

In team news Everton have Mason Holgate and Gylfi Sigurdsson out injured, while Newcastle will be without Christian Atsu but Islam Slimani could make his first start.


What they’re saying 

Sam Allardyce on the job Rafael Benitez has done at Newcastle: “From a difficult period they have managed to recover and get in the Premier League and they have turned it around. They have put together a run of games and we’ll see a better Newcastle than we saw up there [when Everton won 1-0 in December]. Rafa has progressed very well. He has always expressed his disappointment with not enough funds – we can all say we don’t have enough funds. What he has managed with the funds he has, particularly in the January months, has been excellent.”

Rafael Benitez on his Newcastle future: “I want to win games and I want to win trophies and I want to have the tools to be capable of competing. At the same time. I like to improve players, coach players, follow a business plan, a realistic business plan in modern football. I have no problem with that because I did it in the past.”

Prediction
Two teams who are very similar in terms of their style of play should see a bit of a stalemate take place at Goodison. 1-1 draw, which is a much better result for Newcastle and will pile more pressure on Big Sam.

Paul Pogba: “Transfers are not in my head”

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Paul Pogba has been discussing his future at Manchester United beyond this season.

The Frenchman delivered a stunning assist in United’s 2-1 win against Tottenham in the FA Cup semifinal on Saturday, with the midfielder now named Man of the Match in each of his last two games after plenty of speculation about his future at United in recent months.

Jose Mourinho left Pogba out of his starting lineup on multiple occasions, while Pep Guardiola claims he was offered to buy Pogba in January and speculation about him joining Paris Saint-Germain, going back to Juventus or heading to Real Madrid continue.

Speaking to French outlet Canal Football Club, Pogba had the following to say about his own future.

“Right now, I am at Manchester United and I am honestly only thinking about the present. Transfers are not in my head. We are in the [FA] Cup final and the World Cup is around the corner,” Pogba said.

Pogba also addressed the rumors regarding his relationship with Mourinho with reports stating that the duo do not get along and United’s manager is fed up with the Frenchman’s attitude off the pitch.

“I don’t have a problem with him, and I don’t think he has a problem with me,” Pogba said. “He’s the coach and he has to make choices. I am a player and I accept them. I have to answer on the pitch.”

Benitez happy to stay at Newcastle if he “has the tools to compete”

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Rafa Benitez is approaching something vaguely resembling sainthood in the northeast of England — with the Newcastle United-supporting portion, at least — but his future remains in doubt as the end of the current Premier League season draws nearer and the next one approaches.

[ MORE: Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the year award ]

Benitez and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley have endured an unhappy working relationship for much of Benitez’s 25 months at the club. The Spaniard was true to his word, though, when he stuck around another season after being relegated from the PL in 2016, then again after winning promotion on the Magpies’ first attempt, but he’ll be faced with the same dilemma again this summer, even after guiding Newcastle to a mid-table finish (they currently sit 10th with five games left to play).

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

If he’s not given assurances that he’ll be handed the necessary funds to properly strengthen his squad during the upcoming summer transfer window, the 58-year-old could very well walk away and leave Ashley to play the part of all-too-familiar villain. Or, as Benitez put it this weekend, Ashley could fork over “the tools to be capable of competing” and make everyone, from the manager to the fans, happy — quotes form the Guardian:

“If they [Ashley’s representatives] want to talk to my people [about a new contract,] they can talk. The main thing is to be sure we share the same ambition.

“I want to win games and I want to win trophies and I want to have the tools to be capable of competing. At the same time, I like to improve players, coach players, follow a business plan, a realistic business plan in modern football. I have no problem with that because I did it in the past.

“We have to be sure to have all the tools to compete and achieve what we want to achieve because Newcastle is a massive football club and we want it to reach its potential.”

Of course, the perfect scenario for everyone involved would have been for any one of the numerous takeover bids to have gone through during the last two years, but as was most recently evidenced earlier this year, Ashley and the Toon can’t seem to quit each other just yet.

MLS: Timbers end NYCFC’s unbeaten start; Seattle get 1st win

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Sunday was a very good day for a pair of green-clad Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, as the former put to end the unbeaten start of the best team in MLS, while the latter picked up their first win of 2018…

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundupOther MLS Things — The Archive ]

Portland Timbers 3-0 New York City FC

Through their first seven games, NYCFC were almost inarguably the best team in MLS (aside: how much better is their opening-day walkover of Sporting KC looking these days?), but Patrick Vieira’s side might as well have not even shown up to Providence Park on Sunday. Chalk it up to “it’s only one game,” or “these things happen in MLS,” or “NYC to Portland is a long trip for Russian clubs,” or any other credible rationale you prefer, but they were nothing more than 11 passengers for the whole of 90 minutes.

A quick look at the defending on all three of Portland’s goals…

Vieira was right at halftime, when he said his side was lacking intensity and aggression, and that it’d be nigh impossible to get back into the game in the second half if they continued to play that way. Spoiler: it was, because they did.

Just as I’ll not be rushing to judgment over NYCFC’s no-show performance, I’m not yet buying into the idea that Portland have figured things out defensively on the back of one clean sheet (their first of the season).

Seattle Sounders 3-1 Minnesota United

Speaking of firsts, Seattle are the proud owners of points — as in, more than one point — after putting three past Minnesota but almost fatally failing to kill the game off after going 2-0 up. I’m not sure what any defender in black is doing on this sequence…

Alas, Gustav Svensson, Will Bruin and Jordy Delem were far more clinical with their chances than the Loons…

Still, though, Seattle were completely helpless when it came time to grab control of the game while in a commanding position. Osvaldo Alonso is nowhere near the player he once was, which is a massive problem against teams that set up to counter-attack, as Minnesota did on Sunday. It doesn’t help that Roman Torres and Chad Marshall are the plodding center backs behind him.

The obvious answer to the midfield problem is to play Cristian Roldan deeper, alongside Alonso as they did en route to winning MLS Cup in 2016, but injuries to a number of key attackers have forced him into a de facto no. 10 role for the time being. These things will work themselves out with a bit of time, I suppose.

Full MLS scoreboard

Sporting Kansas City 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps (Friday) — FULL RECAP
Montreal Impact 3-5 Los Angeles FC — FULL RECAP
Houston Dynamo 5-1 Toronto FC
New York Red Bulls 1-2 Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew SC 2-2 New England Revolution
Orlando City SC 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union
Real Salt Lake 3-0 Colorado Rapids
LA Galaxy 0-2 Atlanta United