Champions League Preview: Real Madrid, Galatasaray already looking past Tuesday in Istanbul

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José Mourinho is on the verge of his fourth consecutive semifinal. In the nine UEFA Champions League knockout stages he’s been in since qualifying Porto for the 2003-04 competition, Mourinho has guided four different teams to six semifinals, taking two titles. If there’s anybody who can assess his odds of winning Real Madrid’s decima, it’s the Special One.

“Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus and Bayern München are one step ahead of the others,” he said on Monday. “I give each of these teams a 25 percent chance of winning the Champions League.”

Only one of Juventus and Bayern will advance after their Wednesday meeting, but given Mourinho seems to be underrating Borussia Dortmund (a team Real went 0-1-1 against in group stage), 25 percent sounds reasonable enough. If there’s something significant separating the contenders from Germany and Spain, we’re not seeing it.

All of which is pretty dismissive of Galatasaray, Real Madrid’s Tuesday opponent. The Merengues may be up 3-0 after last Wednesday’s opening leg at the Bernabeu, but as Mourinho’s told his players, the match isn’t necessarily over. Right?

“I told my players that a team who won the first match 3-0 may lose the second by the same result. I said anything is possible …”

But although anything can happen in Turkey, there’s little to suggest anything remarkable will occur. Beyond the massive talent gap between the two sides, there’s history – our best indication of the challenges ahead in Istanbul. Real Madrid lost their previous Champions League knockout round trip to Galatasaray, 3-2 in 2002. The only other time a team’s traveled to Istanbul this late in the competition, Chelsea lost at Fenerbahçe, 2-1 in 2008.

For his part, Gala manager Fatih Terim sounds like he’s already putting things in perspective, the tone of his comments suggesting he’s begun consolidating his team’s accomplishments:

“When you analysz the 24 teams that have already been eliminated in the competition, Galatasaray’s achievements can be better understood.”

In other words, don’t compare us to the team we’re playing on Tuesday, a team we really don’t have a hope of beating. Compare us to the 24 teams who didn’t make it this far. Or the hundreds of teams that didn’t even qualify for the competition! They’re not even good enough to not be good enough for Real.

“I would like to thank all my players,” Terim said Monday, seemingly reading from a concession speech. “Anything is possible in football but when you are playing against Real Madrid things are not so easy.”

So I guess you’re saying we should watch the game, right Fatih?

Notes

  • Despite making seven changes, Real Madrid rolled this weekend, handing Levante a 5-1 loss at the Bernabeu.
  • Galatasaray made the fewest changes of any Champions League team in beating Mersin Idmanyurdu, 3-1. With seven players retained in Terim’s starting lineup, Gala may make significant changes against Real.
  • You may have heard: Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso are out for this one. Luka Modric and Pepe may take their places, though Pepe will give way to Raul Albiol if his hamstring doesn’t respond to treatment.
  • Iker Casillas will be back in the team, though he won’t play unless Diego López goes down.
  • Like Alonso and Ramos, Burak Yilmaz is out for Gala, a huge blow for a team that’s scored only 11 times in the competition. He has eight of them. Johan Elmander will get the start.
  • Central defender Dany Nounkeu is also out, having accumulated too many yellows. Hakan Balta could get the call in the middle.

Possible Lineups

Galatasaray (4-3-1-2): Fernando Muslera; Albert Riera, Hakan Balta, Semih Kaya, Emmanuel Eboué; Selcuk Inan, Felipe Melo, Hamit Altintop; Wesley Sneijder; Didier Drogba, Johan Elmander

Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Diego López; Fabio Coentrao; Raphael Varane, Raul Albiol, Michael Essien; Luka Modric, Sami Khedira; Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria; Karim Benzema.

LIVE, UCL – Sevilla vs. Man United, Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma

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Jose Mourinho has created a splash this morning by benching Paul Pogba despite utilizing a 3-man central midfield formation as Manchester United heads to Spain to take on Sevilla in their Champions League Round of 16 first leg meeting.

Pogba was left out of Saturday’s win over Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup due to illness, but having made the trip to Sevilla with the matchday squad, it seems his omission is instead due to tactical reasons. 21-year-old academy product Scott McTominay starts in Pogba’s place alongside Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera, with the Frenchman on the bench among the substitutes.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

The decision is surprising given Manchester United’s 16-point deficit in the Premier League table as they trail runaway favorites Manchester City, leaving the Champions League as the best competition remaining that the Red Devils have a shot to win.

Up front for Manchester United, Alexis Sanchez carries the creative load along with Juan Mata, with both supporting Romelu Lukaku at the striker position. Meanwhile, Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof continue to work as the central defensive partnership, while Antonio Valencia captains the side as full-back, mirrored by Ashley Young on the other edge.

In the other matchup, Roma heads to the Ukraine to take on Shakhtar Donetsk, who finished 2nd in Group F three points behind Manchester City. The Ukranian side has only just returned from its winter break, with just a single game played since December 10th.

Roma, meanwhile, has pulled itself out of a rut just in time for the return of Champions League play, with three straight Serie A wins coming on the heels of a five-match winless run. They have scored eight goals over those three wins, with a pair of road clean sheets among the group. 20-year-old Turkish winger Cengiz Under is on fire over the win streak, scoring four goals over that span.


Today’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 schedule

Sevilla vs. Manchester United – 2:45 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma – 2:45 p.m. ET

Reports: Mourinho to leave Paul Pogba out of Champions League lineup

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According to multiple reports across England, including the BBC, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is ready to leave Paul Pogba out of his starting lineup for Wednesday’s Champions League match against Sevilla despite utilizing a 4-3-3 formation with three central midfielders.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

The reports state that Pogba will be left on the bench in favor of youngster Scott McTominay, who will start alongside Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic. Mourinho has spoken highly of McTominay recently, saying three days ago, “I think Scott deserves more than what he is getting.”

“Maybe it’s because he’s this kind of kid profile: a normal haircut, no tattoos, no big cars, no big watches, humble kid, arrive in the club when he was nine or 10,” Mourinho said in what many perceived to be a thinly veiled slap at Pogba.

Mourinho has held back from publicly criticizing his $125 million midfielder in the media, but his actions on the field suggest otherwise. The 24-year-old has failed to record 90 minutes in three straight Premier League matches, seeing his manager yank him before the full-time whistle in two and failing to make the starting lineup in the other, leaving many to speculate a rift between the two.

The decision is especially surprising given Juan Mata‘s comments earlier Wednesday that suggested Manchester United is prioritizing the Champions League, given their 16-point deficit to Manchester City in the Premier League table.

Pogba missed the 2-0 FA Cup win over Huddersfield on Saturday due to illness, but it’s hard to imagine that four days later that keeps the French superstar on the bench, especially given his ability to make the trip to Sevilla with the matchday squad.

Leicester City settles Financial Fair Play dispute with Football League

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Leicester City will owe the Football League a reduced fine after coming to an agreement with the English lower-league governing body over a dispute regarding the 2013/14 season.

The Foxes, who won the Championship that season and were promoted to the Premier League, were handed an official breach of Financial Fair Play rules after accruing a loss exceeding the allowed $11 million amount. However, Leicester City argued that the deficit was due to “allowable” amounts regarding promotion and academy costs.

After talks between the two parties, the EFL announced Leicester City will owe a reduced amount of $4.33 million. They could have owed up to $18 million, the differential between the allowed amount and their actual posted loss of $20.8 million.

In an official release, the EFL announced, “The EFL acknowledges that [Leicester City] did not make any deliberate attempt to infringe the Rules or to deceive and that the dispute arose out of genuine differences of interpretation of the Rules between the parties.”

After initially receiving word of the notice back in 2014, the Foxes had legally challenged the fine, but that had been put on hold after litigation began in 2015 between the EFL and Queens Park Rangers for a similar dispute. Bournemouth was also fined after incurring a significant loss in their 2014/15 promotion season. Teams that breach rules but are not promoted face transfer bans, such as Fulham, Bolton, and Nottingham Forest received through the 2014/15 season.

Who’s to blame? A closer look at Chelsea’s blunder late vs. Barcelona

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As our very own Joe Prince-Wright explained yesterday in the aftermath of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Barcelona in the Champions League Round of 16, Antonio Conte could not have set his team up better for success at Stamford Bridge.

And yet, they walked away from the first leg with a disappointing result, one that could set up Barcelona with the advantage as they head to the Camp Nou in two weeks time.

So where did it all go wrong? That pass from Andreas Christensen, obviously – the one that gifted Lionel Messi a late goal. But is Christensen to blame? Or were there other culprits?

Clearly, the pass was ill-advised. Christensen sends the ball across his own box parallel to the goal mouth, which Andreas Iniesta easily pilfers and sends to Messi for his first goal against Chelsea. It was a pass they teach 7-year-olds not to make, one that even the youngest of dedicated soccer players knows to avoid.

Christensen makes an easy target, given that he is just 21 years old, has only just recently earned his way into the Blues starting lineup, and was the most obvious culprit having made the fateful pass.

However, upon closer inspection, it may not have even been meant to reach the far side of the field.

Christensen’s exasperated reaction suggests the pass was likely intended for Cesc Fabregas who sat at the top of the box under little pressure. Christensen was closed down on the far touchline with little room to operate, and his outlet to Fabregas in the middle of the field was a good option, even if the general idea of a pass in that direction is usually frowned upon. However, Christensen’s pass was just slightly behind Fabregas, and the Spaniard ultimately decided to let the ball go instead of chasing it down, leaving it for a less populated area of the field.

Unfortunately, with his back turned to the eventual destination of the pass, Fabregas was unaware that Iniesta had anticipated its flight path and was already making a run to steal the ball. When the veteran Barcelona midfielder reached the ball, he was challenged by a sliding Cesar Azpilicueta, who completely whiffed. While Christensen and Fabregas were culpable of putting the team in a dangerous situation, Azpilicueta’s tackle was an abomination. Azpilicueta actually reached the ball first, but inexplicably failed to make contact with the ball, allowing Iniesta to easily evade the slide and still take charge of the ball.

Andreas Christensen is the clear perpetrator, but Fabregas and Azpilicueta both contributed negatively to the situation, leaving Chelsea at a slight disadvantage heading into a hostile environment despite Antonio Conte’s best efforts. Sadly, Conte will be the one to shoulder the accountability at the end of the season if Chelsea goes out of the Champions League, even though he received top marks for the match, and his players let him down.