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.

Guardiola, Rodgers left to unpack thrilling Celtic-Man City draw

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28:  Brendan Rodgers, Manager of Celtic issues instructions to his players next to Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League group C match between Celtic FC and Manchester City FC at Celtic Park on September 28, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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What a match in Glasgow.

The UEFA Champions League group stage returned to Celtic Park on Wednesday, where the hosts thrilled their crowd by taking a trio of leads before settling for a 3-3 draw with mighty Manchester City.

[ MORE: JPW on Walcott’s Arsenal heroics ]

The draw is the first competitive game City hasn’t won under Pep Guardiola, but the manager didn’t feel much like complaining after his team rallied.

From the BBC:

Guardiola: “It was difficult for us. I’m happy with the reaction from the players, it’s not easy to score three goals away.

“I don’t know how many the chances they had after the third goal. We should have won it.”

As for Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers, he was tickled. After all, Celtic had fallen 7-0 to Barcelona at the Camp Nou during their first outing.

From the BBC:

Rodgers: “We were brilliant, the pressing and the energy. Every time we went forward we looked like we could score.

“Apart from the Barcelona game these players have been operating at a high level this season. Now, to do it against that team, it was a magnificent performance.”

Celtic Park was loud on Wednesday, and both sides gave the crowd plenty of oohs and aahs. It’s hard to imagine Celtic could do the same again, and City did give away a pair of goals (one own goal from Raheem Sterling, one gaffe from Aleksandar Kolarov).

But for one afternoon, who cares about anything other than an entertaining 90 minutes?

Theo Walcott remains rampant after going back to basics

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28:  Theo Walcott of Arsenal scores his team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League group A match between Arsenal FC and FC Basel 1893 at the Emirates Stadium on September 28, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Theo Walcott scored both of Arsenal’s goals in their 2-0 win over FC Basel in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday and the English winger is back to his best.

[ RECAP: Arsenal destroy Basel ]

Walcott, 27, is in fine form with four goals in his last three games as Arsenal have won four straight in all competitions.

Against Basel he simply ripped their defense apart in the first half, cutting in from the right wing to combine with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil and wreck havoc.

What has been the big change in Theo’s game this season?

Following Arsenal’s win against Chelsea last weekend (Walcott scored in the big 3-0 win) I asked his manager Arsene Wenger exactly that.

“I believe the change in Theo Walcott is his attitude this season,” Wenger told ProSoccerTalk. “He is ready to fight, commit and you know straight away he gets the crowd behind him. Theo Walcott of that stature is a completely different player.”

That is what we are seeing this season as Walcott spoke before the game against Basel about focusing more on himself and finally giving up on trying to be a central striker.

He looks sharp, focused and angrier (especially when tracking back defensively, something the fans are loving) than he has been in recent years and Wenger will be hoping Walcott stays clear of the horrendous injuries which have peppered his 10-year career at Arsenal.

Sometimes we forget just how long Walcott has been around.

When you look at the stat above, it hits home that he’s no longer a youngster we are waiting to explode into life. It is time Walcott started to deliver and seems like the penny has dropped somewhere along the line and he has gone back to basics. With his pace and power, when he’s on it there’s few defenders who can slow him down.

Now, the only thing Wenger and Arsenal’s fans will be hoping for is that Walcott can stay injury free and finally fulfill the massive potential many have always believed that he had.

Right now, Walcott is rampant for the red-hot Gunners.

UEFA Champions League wrap: Bayern falls at Atleti; Arsenal, Barca win

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 28:  Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Muenchen reacts after conceding a goal during the UEFA Champions League group D match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at the Vicente Calderon Stadium on September 28, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Oh, there were goals to be had in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, where Arsenal, Napoli, and PSG cruised to multi-goal wins while other powers had tougher times.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Manchester City needed to battle for its point at Celtic, while Barcelona came back to topple Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany. And Bayern Munich, well, they found it just as tough to score vs. Atletico Madrid as it did in last year’s semifinal.

Celtic 3-3 Manchester CityRECAP

The Scots opened up a pair of leads through Moussa Dembele‘s third-minute redirection of a Erik Sviatchenko attempt and a Raheem Sterling own goal, but Fernandinho pulled one back for City and Sterling made amends with a goal of his own to level things at half of a thriller at Celtic Park.

Dembele added a second shortly after halftime to put the hosts back on top, and Craig Gordon made a pair of fine saves to keep Celtic’s lead. That’s when Nolito found a loose ball.

Arsenal 2-0 BaselRECAP

A Theo Walcott brace had the Gunners rolling at the Emirates in a match which pits Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka against older brother Taulant Xhaka.

Napoli 4-2 Benfica

Marik Hamsik scores a first goal for the the Italians, and Dries Mertens gave Napoli insurance with a pair of second half goals and Arkadiusz Milik converted a penalty in between. Young Gonçalo Guedes and Eduardo Salvio scored for Benfica late.

Borussia Monchengladbach 1-2 Barcelona

The middle Hazard brother, Thorgan, staked the German hosts to a 1-0 lead over Lionel Messi-less Barcelona with his 34th minute tally.

Arda Turan took advantage of hesitant goalkeeping from Yann Sommer and a chipped pass from Neymar to tie the match in the 65th minute. Sommer then left a Luis Suarez shot on the foot of Gerard Pique, and the big Barca defender scored to make it 2-1.

Napoli 4-0 Benfica

Marik Hamsik scores a first goal for the the Italians, and Dries Mertens gave Napoli insurance with a pair of second half goals and Arkadiusz Milik converted a penalty in between.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Bayern Munich

Yannick Carrasco has the hosts up at the Vicente Calderon, on a nice shot to boot. Antoine Griezmann had the assist, and Atleti recorded more shots than the visitors despite a massive possession advantage for Bayern. The Bavarians also came close to doubling the amount of passes completed by Diego Simeone’s men, but goals are what matter here and Atleti has claimed the rematch of last year’s semifinal. Griezmann missed a late penalty for the hosts.

Ludogorets Razgrad 1-3 Paris Saint-Germain

Blaise Matuidi nabbed an equalizer after the Bulgarians surprised PSG with a Natanael goal in the 16th minute. Edinson Cavani scored twice after halftime to put the French powers in a favorable position.

Besiktas 1-1 Dynamo Kyiv

Portugal’s Ricardo Quaresma gave the hosts a first half lead, but 18-year-old Viktor Tsygankov played hero for the visitors when he scored in the second half.

FC Rostov 2-2 PSV Eindhoven

This was another first half thriller, with Dmitri Poloz netting twice for the hosts. Davy Propper scored the first equalizer, while Luuk De Jong made it 2-2 at the break.

Standings

Group A
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Arsenal 2 1 1 0 3 1 2 1-0-0 0-1-0 4
Paris SG 2 1 1 0 4 2 2 0-1-0 1-0-0 4
Ludogorets 2 0 1 1 2 4 -2 0-0-1 0-1-0 1
FC Basel 2 0 1 1 1 3 -2 0-1-0 0-0-1 1
Group B
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Napoli 2 2 0 0 6 3 3 1-0-0 1-0-0 6
Besiktas 2 0 2 0 2 2 0 0-1-0 0-1-0 2
Dynamo Kiev 2 0 1 1 2 3 -1 0-0-1 0-1-0 1
Benfica 2 0 1 1 3 5 -2 0-1-0 0-0-1 1
Group C
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Barcelona 2 2 0 0 9 1 8 1-0-0 1-0-0 6
Manchester City 2 1 1 0 7 3 4 1-0-0 0-1-0 4
Celtic 2 0 1 1 3 10 -7 0-1-0 0-0-1 1
Mönchengladbach 2 0 0 2 1 6 -5 0-0-1 0-0-1 0
Group D
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Atlético Madrid 2 2 0 0 2 0 2 1-0-0 1-0-0 6
Bayern Munich 2 1 0 1 5 1 4 1-0-0 0-0-1 3
PSV Eindhoven 2 0 1 1 2 3 -1 0-0-1 0-1-0 1
FC Rostov 2 0 1 1 2 7 -5 0-1-0 0-0-1 1

Arsenal 2-0 Basel: Red-hot Walcott leads Gunners to easy win

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28:  Theo Walcott of Arsenal ceclebrates with team-mates Alexis Sanchez and Hector Bellerin after scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League group A match between Arsenal FC and FC Basel 1893 at the Emirates Stadium on September 28, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Theo Walcott scored twice as Arsenal beat FC Basel 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium in Group A of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Why is Walcott on fire? ]

Both of Arsenal’s goals arrived via Walcott in the opening 30 minutes as the English winger now has four goals in his last three games for the Gunners.

In truth Arsene Wenger‘s side eased to victory against a Basel side who were simply overwhelmed. Arsenal now has four points from their opening two games of Group A play in the UCL, sitting top of the group but level on points with Paris Saint-Germain.

[ MORE: Full UCL scoreboard ]

Arsenal opened the scoring in the seventh minute as Alexis Sanchez’s perfect cross from the left found Walcott in the box and the Englishman continued his rich vein of form as he headed home brilliantly. 1-0.

The Gunners continued to pour forward and Walcott was simply unstoppable as he once again combined with Sanchez to grab his and Arsenal’s second.

Walcott played it into Sanchez and after a quick one-two he drilled home into the far corner. 2-0 after 27 minutes.

The Gunners continued to dominate for the rest of the first half as Basel just couldn’t deal with the movement of Arsenal’s forward line as Mesut Ozil dinked just wide.

Arsenal started the second half brightly too, with Alex Iwobi toe poking a shot just wide.

In the 62nd minute Basel had their first real chance of the game as Birkir Bjarnason struck a vicious curling shot from distance which Ospina tipped over. The Icelandic midfielder had another good chance soon after but lashed his effort way over when found free at the back post.

Walcott then played the role of provider with just over 20 minutes to go and pulled the ball back for Sanchez but somehow the Chilean forward slotted his effort wide.

In the closing stages Wenger’s men controlled the game and went closes through Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sanchez but in the end they eased to victory and remain unbeaten in Group A.