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

1 Comment

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.

No clean sheet, no cake for Leicester at Rainieri’s birthday party

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22:  Leicester City mascot Filbert Fox is seen prior to the Premier League match between Leicester City and Crystal Palace at The King Power Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s a happy birthday celebration for Claudio Ranieri, though cake will be missing for Leicester City’s players.

The manager turned 65 on Thursday, and was ready to share some of his gigantic birthday cake with his players if they fulfilled his requirements on Saturday.

[ MORE: Match recap | Fuchs’ great goal ]

The Foxes picked up a comfortable-enough 3-1 win through Ahmed Musa, Christian Fuchs, and Shinji Okazaki, but Yohan Cabaye‘s late goal means no dessert.

“I said I would share my birthday cake in the dressing room if I got a clean sheet,” Ranieri joked to the BBC. “They clearly don’t want a piece.”

Ranieri also explained Jamie Vardy‘s bench place being down to squad rotation after a busy week — Leicester beat Copenhagen in the Champions League — and said Musa is about ready to kick on after an adjustment period in England.

Birthday-boy Wenger plans to drown sorrows after Arsenal draw

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal looks on during the Premier League match between Burnley and Arsenal at Turf Moor on October 2, 2016 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsene Wenger turned 67 on Saturday.

His Arsenal side didn’t reward him with the present of three wins as the Frenchman watched them labor to a 0-0 draw against Middlesbrough.

[ MORE: Bradley’s Swans solid ]

The Gunners thought they’d snatch victory at the death but Mesut Ozil’s goal was offside and although they dominated possession, Middlesbrough looked dangerous on the break with Adam Traore, Alvaro Negredo and Gaston Ramirez all going close.

Speaking to the BBC after the game, Wenger thought his Arsenal side looked a little bit tired following their 6-0 win in the UEFA Champions League at home against Ludogorets on Wednesday.

“It is a game where you had a lot of possession but there were tired legs and you are prone to counter-attacks. You make it difficult for yourself. 75% possession but you could have lost the game, that is modern football.  When you are not sharp, you lack creativity in the final third. I must say, we gave everything but we did not have the legs today.

“The energy levels were a bit down but we were intelligent enough not to lose it. We were exposed at times. When you cannot win, you must not lose. They had chances but our goalkeeper saved us today. Petr Cech had a good performance in decisive phases. We tried. You don’t win on command though. We lacked our creative potential around the box. That is part of it.”

He was also asked if he plans to have a drink to celebrate his birthday. Wenger’s response was classic…

“At least you can have a drink on your birthday. When you win you deserve it. When you don’t you need it,” Wenger said with a smile.

Regardless of a small slip up and an end to their six-game winning streak, Arsenal sits top of the Premier League on Saturday after the 10 a.m. ET games.

Surely that’s reason enough to have a few glasses of Champagne, Arsene?

Christian Fuchs’ bullet a highlight for Leicester City (video)

Leave a comment

Leicester City showed the class of champions on Saturday, improving its Premier League standing with a 3-1 win over Crystal Palace.

The King Power Stadium saw some dicey late moments thanks to a Yohan Cabaye goal, but first got to celebrate an absolute stunner from an unlikely source.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

While Ahmed Musa and Shinji Okazaki goals are more encouraging signs for the Foxes’ attack, it was a scintillating bit of work from Christian Fuchs that really stoked the fire.

Fuchs came onto a ball with Leicester leading 2-0 and lashed his left football through the ball for a venomous volleyed goal.

Bob Bradley “disappointed” as solid Swansea fail to take chances

SWANSEA, WALES - OCTOBER 22:  Bob Bradley, Manager of Swansea City claps the fans prior to kick off during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Watford at the Liberty Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Bob Bradley got his first point as a Premier League manager on Saturday but the American coach knew it should’ve been more.

[ VIDEO: Pulisic’s late goal ]

Gylfi Sigurdsson hit the post and Mike Van der Hoorn produced a fine save from Hurelho Gomes as the Swans drew 0-0 with Watford at the Liberty Stadium in Bradley’s first home game in charge.

Making five changes to his Swansea City side which lost 3-2 at Arsenal last week, Bradley made the Swans much tougher to break down as Watford’s striking duo of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo barely had a sniff at goal.

Young center back Alfie Mawson impressed, as Bradley changed three of the back four who looked shaky at Arsenal last time out, and for most of the season.

Speaking to the BBC about the 0-0 draw, Bradley was happy with the second half display and Swansea’s first clean sheet in eight Premier League games.

“The second half was strong and we came out right from the beginning looking for a goal. It didn’t happen but there are a lot of positives. It was important to get a clean sheet and the play from our center halves was solid as Deeney and Ighalo are difficult to play against. This is a step we can build on,” Bradley said. “Alfie (Mawson) impressed and it is not a surprise when you see him day in, day out. He is strong, good in the air and I am very happy with him.”

“I think the team we picked today made sense, we had a solid game but we are disappointed. It is a home match so we want three points, but you see the chances we are creating and we can feel good and try to move in the right direction. There is disappointment for sure, but a shared feeling of an all-round good effort.”

If you look at the stats below, it suggests just how tight Bradley’s side was at the back, with the expected goals map showing a 0.4 rating for Watford.

We all know that Bradley will bring defensive solidity and improved organization but the fact that he has done it so quickly at Swansea will be a big bonus for the New Jersey native.

Bradley knows that the goals will come with Sigurdsson and Modou Barrow particularly dangerous, once again, but the main thing which will help the Swans climb up the table and away from the relegation zone is clean sheets and nicking wins.

With the next four games handing Bradley two tough matches and two winnable ones — they face Manchester United and Crystal Palace at home and Stoke City and Everton away — the Swans will look to keep it tight and take their chances when they come.

They didn’t do that on Saturday but the progress is clear for all to see. For a team who is without a win in eight PL games, they aren’t letting it impact their play as Bradley continues to whip them into shape.