Pirlo of Juventus reacts after Bayern Munich scored during their Champions League quarter-final second leg soccer match at the Juventus stadium in Turin

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.

Barcelona tops Levante, ties club record with 28 unbeaten

VALENCIA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 07:  Jordi Alba of Barcelona celebrates scoring his team's first goal with his teammate Andres Iniesta during the La Liga match between Levante UD and FC Barcelona at Ciutat de Valencia on February 07, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
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Sir Alex Ferguson described the 2010/11 Barcelona team as the best team he ever faced.

This year’s Barcelona side has matched them.

With a 2-0 victory over La Liga basement-dwellers Levante on an own-goal forced by Jordi Alba plus a late score from Luis Suarez, Barcelona has gone 28 matches unbeaten in all competitions, without a loss since a 2-1 defeat to Sevilla on October 28.

Manager Luis Enrique, though, is unmoved. “What matters to me are the team’s objectives,” said Enrique after the win. “These are nice numbers, if they help us win titles at the end of the season, fantastic. We are in good position, but there is still a lot left.”

The Levante victory marked Luis Enrique’s 100th game in charge of Barcelona.

That 2010/11 season, led by Pep Guardiola, Barcelona came a Copa del Rey finals loss to Real Madrid from a quadruple, winning the league, Champions League, and Supercopa de Espana. This time around, they’ve already secured the Supercopa, sit atop the league table by three points over Atletico Madrid and seven above Real Madrid, have yet to lose a game in the Champions League, and the second leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal against Valencia is a complete formality. What’s more, the numbers from this streak are eerily similar to that wildly successful squad five years ago.

That campaign, Lionel Messi scored 31 league goals and 53 overall. An injury sapped him of time in this go around, but Suarez and Neymar have picked up the slack. There has been just one league game in which all three of Messi, Neymar, and Suarez has been held scoreless this season, and to find it you have to travel all the way back to the second game of the year, a 1-0 win over Malaga that saw Thomas Vermaelen score the winner. Those three have combined for 48 league goals this year, more than every team in the Spanish top flight save Real Madrid.

Paris Saint-Germain has a similar streak going at the moment, currently unbeaten in league play throughout the entire season, but their 1-0 loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League on November 3 means their streak across all competitions sits at 19 games.

Watch Live: Bournemouth vs Arsenal (Lineups & Live Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28: Mesut Ozil of Arsenal and Adam Smith of Bournemouth compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Emirates Stadium on December 28, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Arsenal is hoping to break its four-game winless streak as it travels to Vitality Stadium to take on Bournemouth, live on NBCSN at 8:30 a.m. ET or live online at NBC Sports Live Extra.

The Gunners have drawn three and lost one over its last four matches, leaving them unable to keep pace with Leicester City at the top of the table. With Leicester again winning this week and a matchup with the Foxes looming next time out for Arsenal, this match seems a must-win for Arsene Wenger and company if they wish to remain serious title contenders.

[ WATCH LIVE: Bournemouth vs Arsenal live online at NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Wenger has chosen to leave veteran defender Per Mertesacker on the bench in favor of Gabriel. Francis Coquelin also remains among the substitutes for the second straight match, meaning either Wenger prefers Mathieu Flamini in midfield, or Coquelin remains unfit for a full 90 minutes. Tomas Rosicky was injured last weekend and will be out up to three months, which could end his season.

Eddie Howe has named an unchanged starting lineup from their 2-1 away win at Crystal Palace last week. Winger Junior Stanislas is back on the bench after missing last week. In contrast to Arsenal, the Cherries are unbeaten in four and have won four of their last six, a stretch which has propelled them five points off the relegation zone and the same distance away from the top half of the table.

[ MORE: Premier League Sunday Preview ]

There are no new injury concerns for either side. Both have long-term absentees who are on the mend but still not close to a return. Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, and Santi Cazorla are all out for the Gunners, while Bournemouth duo Max Gradel and Callum Wilson are also sidelined for a while but could return before the end of the season.

LINEUPS

Bournemouth: Boruc; Smith, Francis, Cook, Daniels; Surman, Gosling; Ritchie, Arter, Pugh; Afobe.
Subs: Federici, Distin, Stanislas, O’Kane, Iturbe, King, Grabban.

Arsenal: Cech; Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal; Flamini, Ramsey; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sánchez, Özil; Giroud.
Subs: Ospina, Gibbs, Mertesacker, Walcott, Campbell, Coquelin, Iwobi.

FIFA candidate Prince Ali claims voting pledge from Liberia

Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, flanked by school-age soccer players in uniforms, speaks before about 300 guests during an event at a Roman amphitheater in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The prince is running for FIFA president, saying Wednesday he will fight "deep-seated corruption and political deal-making" and make soccer's scandal-scarred governing body more transparent. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan says the Liberia soccer federation has pledged its vote to him.

Liberia follows Egypt as the second African voter claimed by Prince Ali since the Confederation of African Football’s leadership endorsed Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain on Friday.

The CAF executive committee urged the 54 African voters among FIFA’s 209-strong membership to back the sheikh in the Feb. 26 election.

Prince Ali’s campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.

Bility writes that Prince Ali “represents real change” while other candidates are “not even prepared to criticize” the FIFA system.

Bility was himself an applicant in the presidential contest, then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA’s election monitoring committee.

LVG says Mourinho speculation is false, calls the whole thing “nonsense”

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Louis Van Gaal is sick and tired of the media speculating about his employment (or potential lack thereof), as well as reports linking the presently unemployed Jose Mourinho to his job, so what we’re going to do now is speculate on those reports a bit more.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But first, we’ll give Van Gaal the chance to tell his side of the story. Who better to explain what’s going on at Manchester United than the manager of Man United, right? OK, Louis, take it away, mate — quotes from the Guardian:

“The last two months have been very difficult for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my friends to cope with. For me too, but I can cope. In the Netherlands they know I am too arrogant to doubt myself, but I also know that such a nonsense is being created about me. I do not believe that there is already a relationship between José Mourinho and Manchester United.”

“It is logical when you have lost four matches in a row, people are bound to be doubting. … I criticize the media for inventing stories. I never hired security. Never ever. And I am walking on the streets without security and all the people I meet are very positive.”

OK, now that that’s out of the way, Jose Mourinho is definitely talking to Manchester United, or someone is doing so on his behalf. There’s arguably never been a more sitting-duck manager in world football than Van Gaal is right now — not only have the results been extremely “meh” for nearly two seasons now, but he’s also got less than 18 months left on his contract, which means it would cost the club considerably less to make him go away than, say, David Moyes, who still had more than five years(!!!) left on his deal when he was fired in April of his first season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL preview — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

Also, they were totally in for Pep Guardiola, too, and since they didn’t get him, they’ll have to respond thusly, and since Carlo Ancelotti has already been named Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich, Mourinho is the last “big name” out there right now. Unless, of course, they wanted to tap up Manuel Pellegrini, who’s on his way out to make room for Guardiola. Could be fun. But not as fun as Jose back in the Premier League, at Man United, in the same city with Pep. Remember the last time those two were employed on opposite sides of a heated rivalry?

As spectacular as this year’s PL season has been — and it’s bordering on the best of all time, still with 13 weeks to go — think about what that means for next season. It’s going to have be even more bonkers, so as not to seem boring by comparison. Louis van Gaal seems like a nice enough guy, but his team’s football isn’t that exciting on the field, and he offers little more off it. Mourinho isn’t the hero we deserve, but he’s certainly the one we need.