Where they stand: Borussia Dortmund and the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals

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With UEFA Champions League quarterfinals over, it’s time to take inventory of what we’ve learned about the teams that comprise one of the more competitive semifinal quartets in recent memory. Next up: Borussia Dortmund.

Barcelona, Bayern, and Real Madrid all have multiple European Cups on their mantles, so while Borussia Dortmund sport their own Champions League title, they’re the relative upstarts among the semifinalists. After dalliances with bankruptcy (most recently in 2005) forced BVB back down the European ladder, they became Champions League after thoughts. This year, after winning their group and eliminating Shakhtar Donestk and Málaga on the way to this years’ semifinals, Borussia Dortmund have started to reclaim some of their lost prestige.

In that respect, Borussia Dortmund have already had a successful tournament. They’ve made the breakthrough that eluded them when they were eliminated in last year’s tournament. Now playing with the house’s money, BVB will try to transcend upstart and become finalists.

Here’s what we found out about them in the quarterfinals:

  • Attack: Their inability to convert a number of gilt edge chances against Willy Caballero has to be concerning, especially considering Dortmund’s unlikely to get the same number of chances in the semifinals. The urgency they showed at the end of Tuesday’s match will need to be replicated earlier and more often in the next round, but given BVB’s inability to take control of their quarterfinal match in Dortmund, there’s reason to wonder if they have the experience that will make them realize the occasion. Still, if Tuesday’s match can serve as a wakeup call, Dortmund will be fine.
  • Defense: Even if the attack comes around, the defense is going to remain problematic. Mats Hummels is talented, and most of Europe’s clubs would want him, but he’s mistake prone. And Neven Subotic is talented, most of Europe’s clubs would want him, but he’s also mistake prone. That’s not going to change over the next two weeks.
  • And beyond: They’re the most flawed team in the final four, but that’s a distinction that deserves a huge asterisk. With the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Mario Götze, and Marco Reus, they have the personnel (and approach) to exploit anybody’s bad day. They’re still capable of winning this competition, but they’ll likely need a little help.
  • Preferred matchups: Anybody but Bayern. Although Dortmund’s most familiar with their Bundesliga rivals, during the course of this season, they’ve become familiar with losing to them. Given BVB’s group stage success against Real Madrid, Jurgen Klopp may prefer to get los Merengues in the semis and Barcelona in the final.
Where they stand …
Barcelona Bayern Munich Borussia Dortmund Real Madrid

Important dates

Friday, April 12 – Semifinal matchups drawn
Tuesday, April 23 – Leg one, semifinal one
Wednesday, April 24 – Leg one, semifinal two
Tuesday, April 30 – Leg two, semifinal two
Wednesday, May 1 – Leg two, semifinal one
Saturday, May 25 – Final (London)

Report: FIFA president Infantino in hot water

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The more things at FIFA change, the more they stay the same.

According to a bombshell report from The Guardian, FIFA president Gianni Infantino was under investigation by the FIFA Ethics Committee before the president disbanded the committee in May. The report states that Infantino spent around $1.16 million on his election campaign, despite declaring publicly he had only spent around $583,000 on flights around the world to meet with national FA presidents.

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The report claims Infantino was also being investigated by then committee chairman Cornel Borbely over whether he influenced the election of a new president in the Confederation of African Federations, or CAF.

FIFA rules state that presidential candidates must declare campaign expenditures publicly.

The latest bad press on FIFA follows the arrest of Spanish Football Federation president and UEFA vice president Angel Maria Villar and his son among other national and regional officials on charges of corruption and improper management.

Villar appeared in court on Thursday, and a judge denied he and his son bail.

Transfer Rumor Wrap: Liverpool rejects Barca bid for Coutinho, Roma offer for Mahrez turned down

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Liverpool isn’t planning on cashing in on one of the Premier League’s stars this summer.

Jurgen Klopp and Co. gave Barcelona a resolute “no” after Barcelona submitted a transfer bid of more than $93 million for Philippe Coutinho. Coutinho signed a new five-year contract with the club in January.

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“The main thing I think about is how we can make the next step with the players we had last season,” Klopp told reporters in Hong Kong earlier this week. “The good news is that actually we didn’t lose – and we will not lose – a player we want to keep this summer. That’s the best news actually and then we’ll see who can bring into the squad.”

Coutinho signed for Liverpool in 2013 but had a breakout year in 2015-2016, earning the PFA Young Player of the Year. Last year Coutinho became an even more consistent goal-scorer and playmaker, scoring 13 goals with seven assists in 34 Premier League appearances.

Keeping Coutinho is of supreme importance for Liverpool, which is back in the UEFA Champions League for the first time since the 2014-2015 season.

(more…)

La Liga releases schedule: First El Clasico coming in December

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It’s Christmas in July for fans of La Liga Friday as the Spanish league published its schedule for the upcoming season.

Defending champions Real Madrid travel to Deportivo La Caruña on August 20, the opening match of the season while its rival Barcelona hosts Real Betis.

As it’s La Liga, the first date most fans searched for was the first El Clasico of the season, and the biennial battles between Real Madrid and Barcelona will take place on December 20 and May 6, with Real Madrid hosting the first match.

The first match comes just ahead of the Spanish winter break, while the second match comes at a busy period at the end of the season, where both teams will be hoping to still be competing in the UEFA Champions League.

Other interesting matches to keep an eye on in the first few weeks of the season include Real Madrid hosting Valencia in week two, the Barcelona derby between Barca and Espanyol in week three and Atletico Madrid taking on Sevilla in week six.

Here’s a look at this year’s La Liga schedule.

Conte: Costa “situation was very clear” in January

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At this point, there is no doubt Diego Costa‘s future lies away from London and Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte broke his silence on the Brazilian-born Spain international striker, saying he’s been ready to move on from Costa since January, when Costa and Conte had a disagreement following a big-money offer from Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian during the winter transfer window.

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“I don’t like to talk about players who are not here but the only thing I can tell you [is that] in January, the Costa situation was very clear, for the club for him and his agent,” Conte told reporters Friday. “For me the situation is closed.”

It’s an amazing turn of events after Costa scored 20 Premier League goals in Chelsea’s title-winning 2016-2017 season, including 14 goals through the end of December. But after falling out with Jose Mourinho a year earlier, the same issue happened again under Conte, with Costa proving much less effective down the stretch.

But Conte and Costa were able to put their differences aside on the field, photographed multiple times hugging after wins, as well as after winning the title.

Costa is reportedly now agitating for a move back to his former club Atletico Madrid, but the Spanish club’s transfer ban until the next window complicates matters. In a World Cup year, would Costa be willing to sit out half a season just to leave Chelsea?

If Costa’s time in the Premier League is up, he’ll go down as one of the league’s best pound-for-pound goalscorers. He scored 52 goals in 89 Premier League appearances, with seven more cup goals in his three-year spell at Chelsea.

And if he is gone, defenders across the Premier League will sure be happy to wave goodbye.