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. We start with Barcelona … because of the alphabet.
Borussia Dortmund needed the heroics, but based on final scores, Barcelona was the semifinalist closest to leaving the competition in the quarterfinal round. Thanks to a late Wednesday goal from Pedro Rodríguez, Barça makes their sixth straight semifinal (a tournament record), even though for most of the match at the Nou Camp, the Blaugrana were on the wrong end of scoring chances.
But Paris Saint-Germain are gone. So are the matchup problems and the array of the injury concerns that dogged Jordi Roura’s squad during the second leg. Now they can move on to the semifinals.
Here’s what we know:
- Attack: While it’s becoming easier for top teams to contain Barcelona’s attack, there are still two worrisome elements. First, Messi’s best can’t be stopped, putting you at his mercy. Second, unless you’re Real Madrid, you have to concede a lot of possession to implement the plan that’s most likely to succeed. That’s a problem for Bayern, though Dortmund can try the counterattack-heavy approach that was so successful last year against München (even if they’ll miss Shinji Kagawa while doing so).
- Defense: If Carles Puyol’s back for the semifinal, it will difficult to make any judgments from the quarters into the next round. If he isn’t, Gerard Piqué becomes even more important. He was strong over two legs against PSG, but against talented attacks in the semifinals, Javier Mascherano’s absence could be felt.
- And beyond: Barcelona’s difficult to analyze because we’re used to possession being a strong harbinger of goals. But against the better teams in Europe, Barcelona’s possession represents a compromise. Teams are willing to concede a little more of the ball in exchange for security at the back knowing their counter attack’s bound to be their most dangerous weapon. While their dominance of the possession gives the impression Barcelona can determine their own destiny, this year may be the first in five where “the field” may be a better bet than the Blaugrana.
- Preferred matchups: The one team Barcelona will want to avoid is Real Madrid, a team that’s slowly developed a team to beat Barça. Bayern Munich being Europe’s best (at the moment), Barça should hope to take their chances in a one-off against München while drawing Dortmund over two legs.
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)
Manolo Gabbiadini performed brilliantly in Sunday’s EFL Cup final, but was the Southampton striker unfairly gipped of a hat-trick?
[ MORE: Lucky Man United, Mourinho begin trophy haul ]
Saints manager Claude Puel certainly believes so.
[ MORE: Three things from Man United’s win vs. Southampton ]
While the back-and-forth final between Southampton and Manchester United presented a tremendous matchup, the Saints had every right to be furious with the officiating in the early going after Gabbiadini’s 11th minute finish was called off for offsides.
“I would like, of course, video in the future for these situations,” said Puel. “It’s very hard when we see this game to lose. It was cruel.”
Gabbiadini went on to score a pair of goals at the tail end of the first half and early in the second stanza, but Puel was pleased with his side’s resilience after going down 2-0 inside the opening 38 minutes.
“We kept the good attitude and spirit to stay in the game after going 2-0 down,” said the Southampton boss. “We played since the beginning of the season every two or three days. We played to a strong and fantastic level. It’s important now to continue this work, to put away this disappointment and come back in the Premier League with this strength and this quality.”
Video replay has been a common discussion for some time now, but more leagues are beginning to examine the possibility. FIFA is prepared to introduce new experimental trials over the coming months and could present a form of replay at next summer’s World Cup in Russia.
A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…
[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]
Villareal 2-3 Real Madrid
The Yellow Submarine did everything right to open the second half but Real Madrid proved resilient once again to earn a victory at El Madrigal. Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata each netted after the hour mark to help Los Blancos pick up three points and remain leap over Barcelona at the top of the table. Manu Trigueros and Cédric Bakambu scored within six minutes of one another to give Villareal a 2-0 early in the second half but Real began to press harder after the setback.
Atletico Madrid 1-2 Barcelona
It surely wasn’t the most attractive match at times, particularly for the visitors, but Lionel Messi was up to his old tricks once again and helped lift Barcelona into the top spot in La Liga. The Argentine attacker was persistent inside the Atletico box with the match nearing the end and Messi managed to break the deadlock in the 86th minute. Both sides traded goals earlier in the second stanza, with Rafinha getting Barca on the board before Diego Godin equalized six minutes later.
Elsewhere in La Liga
Espanyol 3-0 Osasuna
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Celta Vigo
Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Granada
Inter Milan 1-3 Roma
Mauro Icardi gave Inter a brief glimmer of hope, but Roma continued its fine form on Sunday against the Milan side. Radja Nainggolan’s incredible double helped provide the Giallorossi with a two-goal advantage in the second half before substitute Diego Perotti sealed Roma’s victory from the penalty spot.
Sassuolo 0-1 AC Milan
Controversy struck at the Mapei Stadium but it didn’t benefit the hosts. Carlos Bacca netted the game’s lone finish just 22 minutes in from the penalty spot but it was the Colombian that came into question for his attempt. Bacca slipped while taking his spot kick and appeared to hit the ball with both feet before it crossed the goal line, leaving Sassuolo players furious. Milan now sits in seventh place in Serie A, just four points outside of the top four.
Elsewhere in Serie A
Palermo 1-1 Sampdoria
Chievo 2-0 Pescara
Crotone 1-2 Cagliari
Genoa 1-1 Bologna
Lazio 1-0 Udinese
Plenty of changes were made to the LA Galaxy this offseason, and now injuries are also plaguing the five-time MLS Cup winners.
[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]
New Galaxy manager Curt Onolfo this week that defender Ashley Cole suffered a calf injury in the team’s preseason friendly against Real Salt Lake on Tuesday.
[ MORE: Whitecaps acquire Brek Shea in deal with Orlando City ]
The Los Angeles Times in reporting that Cole’s injury could keep him out for around a month, which would leave him absent of the Galaxy’s first three matches against FC Dallas, the Portland Timbers and RSL.
The 36-year-old Cole joined the Western Conference side in 2016 after a lengthy and successful European career. In his debut season, Cole made 26 starts for the Galaxy and scored a goal in that span.
In addition to Cole’s injury, the Galaxy are currently without outside back Robbie Rogers and USMNT attacker Gyasi Zardes, who have both undergone surgeries in the past two months.
BERLIN (AP) Berlin police made almost 100 arrests on Saturday when Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt supporters clashed violently before their Bundesliga game.
[ MORE: Lucky Man United, Mourinho begin trophy haul ]
Police say masked fans fought with batons, bottles, beer crates, chairs and flares on a busy street corner in the neighborhood of Moabit. The first officers on the scene faced “a group of around 60 rioters” who turned on the police.
Two police vehicles were damaged with stones and bottles before 96 arrests were made – with 73 of those arrested from the state of Hessen, which has Frankfurt as its largest city.
Six supporters were hospitalized. Police say only one fan is still in the hospital and in a “stable” condition.
Police say they are investigating whether the clash was pre-arranged.