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?


  • 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.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.