Bayern Munich’s cruise through Juventus, and the modest state of Italian soccer

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After being given a week to come to grips with the Juventus’s inevitable Champions League demise, today’s outcome was no surprise. Duplicating their result from last Tuesday, Bayern Munich defeated Juve 2-0 in Turin, easily advancing to the competition’s semifinals with a 4-0 aggregate win in what was supposed to be the tie of the round.

Ultimately, it was the competition’s most lopsided quarterfinal. Bayern and Juventus’s was the only tie decided by more than two goals, the final margin in each FCB romp. And while it’s cliché to say a final score does or does not do a match justice, 180 minutes of Juve futility leaves us with the feeling München could have put a much more embarrassing number on the Italian champs.

(MORE: Stars live Barça past stalwart Parisians.)

Kicking off with a two-goal lead, Bayern brought little of the intensity that defined the onset of last week’s match. Instead, Mario Mandzukic played off the defense, Bayern often appearing to form a line of four just on top of Juventus’s midfield. When Bayern forced their eventual turnovers, they’d sprint into counters that would eventually fade when Juve collected themselves behind the ball. The chances were rare, but the possession constantly deflated any progress Juventus tried to make.

By the half-hour mark the Old Lady was finally making some headway, but that meant going from no chances to half-chances, still a long way from truly threatening Bayern. Any momentum the Italians were trying to build was stymied in the 64th minute, when a restart led to Bayern’s tie-killing goal. After Mandzukic cleaned up a Javi Martínez chance, Juventus needed four goals in 26 minutes to reach the semifinals.

A late Claudio Pizarro goal barely drew celebration or disappointment. By that time, the teams had accepted their divergent fates, destinies last week’s lopsided game had made perfectly clear. For whatever reason – Juventus’s history, shift of venue, nebulous Bayern fragility – we convinced ourselves there’d be something into today’s match. Oh, were we ever wrong.

The only take away from Wednesday’s result is not a verdict on which team’s better (we knew that eight days ago). Bayern’s title credentials were neither hurt nor helped, while we knew Juve’s tactical peculiarities and talent deficiencies (compared to Bayern) would be debilitating if their more mystical qualities didn’t shine through.

But there was no mysticism to be had. As much as we wanted to believe an Italian champion could carry a romantic past into today’s Champions League, chairman Angrea Angelli was right when, last December, he said the club is still be chasing European titans who have more to put into their squads. They may be untouchable in Italy, but if Juventus want to transcend this new version of flat track bullying, they’ll need two-to-three more summers of smart buying to improve a limited squad.

source: APIt’s not just the strikers, though that’s the most glaring deficiency. Their midfield is fine, but it’s too dependent on one aging star. A backline that’s solid but unspectacular would have trouble dropping any of its starters into other top European defenses. And the team needs more depth to provide an alternative to the 3-5-2 that exasperated their problems against Bayern. In terms of talent, this team is nowhere close to the squads that are still alive in this competition.

For those of us who grew up in a world where Italy’s teams were among the world’s best (so, all of us), today was another reminder of our increasing age, the passing years, and our stagnant memories. The days when a top Italian team can be counted on to be one of Europe’s best are long gones, even if a Serie A side lifted the trophy only three years ago. Juventus is leaps and bounds better than Napoli or Milan, yet they’re years behind a Bayern, and while you don’t want to read too much into one team’s singular results, Italy’s collective results aren’t much better (see: UEFA coefficient). FCB may prove to be by far the best team in Europe this year, but the distance they put between them and Juventus shows how far Italy’s fallen.

For many of you less stubborn sorts, that’s an obvious statement, and I’m not exactly enlightened by the conclusion, either. I guess I’m still not used to a soccer landscape where Italy’s champion is cast in the same light as an FC Porto, or Shakhtar Donetsk, or Zenit St. Petersburg or Anderlecht. Yes, these teams dominate their leagues, and they look good doing do, but what does that really tell us?

It told us nothing about Juventus. They were so far behind the pace against Bayern, they could have been Anderlecht or Zenit. The win did tell us anything about FCB, and as much as it pains me to admit it, I was completely wrong in saying this matchup came two rounds too soon.

It’s not painful because I’m wrong. That happens all the time. It’s painful because a bedrock of my soccer past is not returning any time soon. We just can’t take anything for granted with Italian soccer, anymore.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday