Borussia Dortmund's Lewandowski celebrates a goal against Augsburg during the German first division Bundesliga soccer match in Dortmund

Champions League preview: The exaggerated gap between Borussia Dortmund, Málaga

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This tie is still way too close, especially if you overlook last week’s result to dwell on what’s going on around it. Both Borussia Dortmund and Málaga made big chances this weekend, but still BVB rolled through Augsburg, 4-2. Málaga, despite playing a defender and midfielder set to start on Tuesday, gave up four goals at Real Sociedad, losing 4-1. Combined with the growing feeling that Manuel Pellegrini’s team were lucky to preserve last Wednesday’s 0-0 and you’re apt to forget how close Málaga is to springing this upset.

“The first leg was not a bad result for us,” Málaga defender Martín Demichelis was compelled to affirm on Monday. “[A]ny who believe Dortmund are as good as through are mistaken.”

There’s little doubt Borussia Dortmund are the better team, but the gap between the two sides isn’t that big. All it takes is any of number of one-goal scenarios to come good and Dortmund could be out: A Neven Subotic error; a Mats Hummels gaff; one unmarked man on a corner; a bad foul in the final third; or a single offside call where the flag doesn’t come up. Combine those possibilities, the away goals rule, as well as a team whose Champions League inexperience could belie their talent and you wonder why one narrative’s being buried below another.

There’s a reason Pellegrini was content with last week’s result. The away goals rule plays a big part, with Borussia Dortmund forced to score twice at the Westfalenstadion if they concede. A bigger reason, though, is the approach Pellegrini’s instilled, one that allows his teams to take advantage of small openings while relying on a backbone that can withstand long periods of time where the team’s not in control.

“It will be important to show the qualities which have made us so strong in the past: intensity, aggression, intelligence,” Demichelis said, offering some adjectives to characterize Pellegrini’s approach. “If we can bring all those qualities to life, we can be on a par with BVB.”

Those qualities were on display last week, albeit in limited quantities. Yes, Dortmund were better, and on some days, they convert some of those first half chances. But thanks to Willy Caballero, they didn’t. As the game wore on, Málaga were able to stabilize. By full time, they had their own small set of would have-could have scenarios.

Málaga doesn’t need to outplay Dortmund on Tuesday. They just need to have as many goals as their hosts. A score draw (or better) will get a second Pellegrini debutant to the semifinals. It doesn’t matter if they get there on technical or artistic merit.

If Málaga can outlast Dortmund’s initial surge and get to halftime scoreless, they can start playing for those one-goal scenarios that will vault them into the final four. It’s BVB’s job to take those scenarios out of play as soon as possible.

Notes

  • Topping the list of reasons all this Málaga talk could go for naught: Robert Lewandowski. On Sunday the Bundesliga’s goals leader came off the bench to score in his 10th straight league game. He’s now up to 21 goals this season and has 51 league tallies since moving from Lech Poznan three years ago.
  • Another reason to doubt Málaga: Suspensions. Weligton’s out. Manuel Iturra is also out. Diego Lugano’s going to come into the defense, while Ignacio Camacho will start along side Jeremy Toulalan in midfield.
  • Dortmund, on the other hand, are returning to full strength. Hummels and Jakob Blaszczykowski are expected to play after missing leg one in Málaga. Roman Wiedenfeller and Marco Reus, both held out against Augsburg, should also start.
  • Should Hummels and Blaszczykowski not make the starting XI, Felipe Santana and Kevin Großkreutz will keep their spots.
  • Manuel Pellegrini was not with the team on Monday, the Málaga boss having flown back to Chile after the death of his father. He is expected to arrive in time to oversee Tuesday’s match.

Possible lineups

Borussia Dortmund (4-2-3-1): Roman Weidenfeller; Marcel Schmelzer, Mats Hummels, Neven Subotic, Lukasz Piszczek; Ilkay Gundogan, Sebastian Kehl; Marco Reus, Mario Götze, Jakob Blaszczykowski; Robert Lewandowski.

Málaga (4-4-2): Willy Caballero; Antunes, Diego Lugano, Martín Demichelis, Jesús Gámez; Isco, Ignacio Camacho, Jeremy Toulálán, Joaquin; Júlio Baptista, Javier Saviola.

Loss to Sevilla quickly puts Real Madrid’s Zidane on the defensive

SEVILLE, SPAIN - JANUARY 15:  Head Coach of Real Madrid CF Zinedine Zidane looks on prior to  the match against Real Madrid CF during the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on January 15, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid’s first loss after a 40-game unbeaten streak was enough to put coach Zinedine Zidane on the defensive.

Two days after Madrid’s unbeaten record was halted by a 2-1 defeat at Sevilla in the Spanish league, Zidane was forced to defend some of his players against criticism from fans and local media.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

Most comments were aimed at goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who failed to stop Sevilla’s injury-time winner on Sunday. Navas got to Stevan Jovetic‘s long-range shot but was unable to keep the ball from going in.

“He’s having a really good season,” Zidane said on Tuesday. “You can always ask for more, but if up until now we had gone 40 games without losing, it’s for a reason, and he has been there all the way.”

There have been calls for Zidane to give reserve goalkeeper Kiko Casilla a chance, but the coach said there was “no need to go over this again.”

Zidane also dismissed talk about signing a new goalkeeper.

“These are rumors,” he said. “We are focused on what we are doing this year. Whatever happens next I’m not interested and it’s not the time to talk about it. The three goalkeepers we have are important, they’re doing well and I’m very happy with them. I don’t want to change anything we’re doing.”

[ MORE: How Sevilla hope to break up the Madrid-Barca duopoly ]

Zidane defended forward Karim Benzema, who lost possession near midfield in a mistake that led to host Sevilla’s winner on Sunday.

“Everyone can say and write what they want,” Zidane said. “On a field, playing 90 minutes, you can’t do everything right. There is talk of lack of concentration, but we only had five bad minutes and that happens in football.”

Benzema also missed a chance to score from close range in the game, but a few days earlier it was the French striker who netted in stoppage time in a Copa del Rey match against Sevilla to help Madrid set the Spanish unbeaten record.

Zidane downplayed the end of Madrid’s unbeaten streak. The club hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat at Wolfsburg in the Champions League in April.

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

“These things happen,” he said. “Nothing is going to change in what I’m going to do. Those who are not Real Madrid fans will want us to lose, but we must be ready and think that what we’re doing is fine. We lost a game, something that happens, and now we have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Madrid hosts Celta Vigo on Wednesday in a first-leg match in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

Celta has won all four matches this year.

“I am not surprised by Celta’s record because they’re a very good team, they fight and play very good football,” Zidane said. “It’ll be another complicated match for us.”

FA fines Man City’s Sagna over “10 against 12” Instagram message

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02: Scott Arfield of Burnley (L) tackles Bacary Sagna of Manchester City (R) during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Burnley at Etihad Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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LONDON (AP) The English Football Association has fined Manchester City defender Bacary Sagna 40,000 pounds (around $50,000) for an Instagram post about a referee.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Sagna posted a photo with the caption “10 against 12.. but still fighting and winning as a team” on the social network site following City’s 2-1 win against Burnley on Jan. 2.

Sagna later amended the post to read “still fighting and winning as a team” after a match that saw referee Lee Mason send off midfielder Fernandinho.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

The FA also warned Sagna about his future conduct.

Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over in-limbo Matip

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Joel Matip of Liverpool and Andre Ayew of West Ham United compete for the ball during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on December 11, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
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Few footballing sagas will ever reach heights of absurdity comparable to that of the Joel Matip/Liverpool versus Cameroon/FIFA battle currently raging, as the Reds defender finds himself “ineligible” to play for his club due to an international call-up 18 months after announcing his international retirement.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

PST’s Joe Prince-Wright summed up the situation quite well, in full, right here. An excerpt:

Matip, 25, was called up by the Cameroon national team for the 2017 African Cup of Nations which is currently taking place in Gabon. However, the former Schalke defender has previously stated that he did not want to play for them and he had retired from international duty.

Cameroon called him into their initial 35-man squad for the competition anyway but did not include him in their final 23-man squad once it became clear Matip, along with six other players, had no interest in playing for them at AFCON.

FIFA has confirmed that Liverpool has been in touch regarding Matip’s status and it now appears that he will not be able to play in any other competition while Cameroon is still in AFCON action under Article 5 of FIFA’s rules.

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

Fast forward a few days, and Jurgen Klopp and Co. have no further clarity regarding the situation. It’s so unclear, in fact, that Klopp said on Tuesday he may select the 25-year-old during one of two remaining games this week, and hope for the best — quotes from the Guardian:

“As you can imagine, we are in a lot of talks. We’ve done transfers quicker than this. It’s already long term but now it’s getting really tense on our side. We’ve tried everything but at the end I have to make the decision. Of course I have to ask [Liverpool’s lawyers] but the decision is for me to make. I could put him in the lineup. I don’t think the referee is going to say: ‘Stop, stop, you cannot go on the pitch.’ But I will do it when it’s OK from our point of view. Of course I need advice — I’m not a lawyer.”

“Most of the time in life you know if you do this, then you get this. But it’s not 100 percent clear what happens [if Matip plays]. We try everything to win football games. If this can happen — out of the tournament or whatever — then we have to decide about the risk. He’s ready to play for us and that makes it difficult.”

What an utter disaster of a situation Cameroon have intentionally created here.

VIDEO: Jeison Murillo’s incredible bicycle from a corner kick

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 17:  (R-L) Jeison Murillo of FC Internazionale celebrates his first goal with Geoffrey Kondogbia during the TIM Cup match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 17, 2017 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Look away now, Andy Carroll. Take a bow, Jeison Murillo.

[ VIDEOS: All in a week’s work — Messi free kick no. 1 | Messi free kick no. 2 ]

Just three days after Carroll scored the bicycle-kick goal of the year (so we thought), here comes Murillo, Inter Milan’s 24-year-old Colombian striker, to steal his thunder (below video). The fact he did it directly from a corner kick, with the ball traveling roughly 40 yards before flinging his body into the air and striking the ball so cleanly, (somehow) trumps Carroll’s accomplishment from Saturday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

Sensational goals come in twos now, apparently, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud scored stunning scorpion-kick goals (WATCH HERE and HERE) just days apart earlier in the season.