Trounced: Four-star Bayern Munich embarrass subdued Barcelona

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If you define the current era of Barcelona dominance as starting from the day Pep Guardiola took the reins from Frank Rijkaard in 2008, today’s loss in Munich is unquestionably the worst defeat of Barcelona’s modern era – an embarrassing drubbing that could mark the end of this squad’s golden days. No Guardiola team would have lost 4-0 in a Champions League semifinal.

But that’s exactly what happened today at the Allianz Arena, and if it wasn’t for a couple of stellar saves from Victor Valdes, it could have been worse. As is, goals from Mario Gomez, Arjen Robben and a brace from Thomas Muller marked a sea change, with Bayern Munich looking every bit as inimitable as Barcelona during their first days under Guardiola.

It was an indelible performance that leaves Barcelona walking zombies, set to play out 90 more minutes with little hope of advancing. If next week’s match at the Nou Camp is anywhere near as lopsided as this one, the second half will serve as a passing of the torch. Barcelona’s era may be over. Bayern’s may have begun.

[MORE: In their words: Reaction to Tuesday’s result.]

First two minutes told the tale

With a little beforehand knowledge about the two teams, you could have predicted this game’s course from the action’s first two minutes. Off the opening kickoff Barcelona held the ball for a minute without even threatening Bayern’s defensive third. When they finally turned it over, the Catalans found themselves on their heels, with Bayern quickly transitioning through their right side to create a chance for Arjen Robben. His point-blank shot was saved by Victor Valdes, a fine stop aided by the sharp angle Robben had at goal.

Barcelona would persist with their ball-hogging ways, holding 62 percent possession at halftime. Unfortunately, they had no shots on target. Bayern had four and had forced eight corner kicks (to Barcelona’s three), comfortably controlling the first 45 minutes.

At match’s end Barcelona had 63 percent of the possession but only two shots – attempts that came after they were trailing by multiple goals. Bayern forced five saves from Valdes.

Lack of size comes back to bite Barça

In hindsight, it’s easy to say that Barcelona would have trouble competing while giving up so many corner kicks, but it wasn’t a difficult prediction to make. Whereas their perpetual control of matches usually limits exposure of their small defense, they were always unlikely to have that kind of control in Munich. Barça had their typical possession advantage, but because most of their play was in the defensive and middle thirds, their turnovers were that much easier to turn into threats.

It was Bayern’s fifth corner in the 25th minute that led to their opening goal. A restart played near post by Franck Ribery deflected to the opposite flank where, after three more touches, it was put back across goal by Arjen Robben. Dante out-jumped Dani Alves, heading a ball back to Valdes’s left post, where Thomas Muller ran into the opener.

Early in the second half, another set piece doubled Bayern’s lead. This time is was Robben’s corner who met Muller who, rising above the defense, put the ball toward the middle of the six for Mario Gomez. An easy left-footed finish made it 2-0.

The goal that put the tie away?

Had Barcelona gotten out of Munich down two, they could have consoled themselves with memories of Milan – the quarterfinal opponent who failed to defend the 2-0 lead they took out of Italy. Barcelona turned that deficit around, making history while doing so, and if they’re going to advance to another round of this competition, they will have to make history again. Nobody’s even turned around a 3-0 to advance in Champions League, let alone a 4-0.

That Bayern’s final goals came from the run of play was only just considering a superiority that extended well beyond set pieces. In the 74th minute, that justice manifest through Robben who, receiving the ball on the right flank during a München counter, dibbled around Jordi Alba before slotting a ball far post while Valdes tried to close down his sharp angle.

It’s a goal that could very well prove the decisive blow. While Barcelona beat the Rossoneri 4-0 in their quarterfinal return leg, the Germans aren’t Milan. They’re much better. They aren’t an inconsistent team that put together (what we now see as) a one-off against European royalty. They’re a team whose win fits into a greater pattern of dominance.

Seven minutes later, Bayern completed their rout, with Muller putting home his second goal of the afternoon, deflecting a ball over Valdes from just inside the six-yard box. If there was any doubt Barça was done, Müller’s second quelled it.

[MORE: Highlights – Bayern Munich vs. Barcelona]

Where was Lionel Messi?

It’s difficult to remember the last time Lionel Messi had such little impact on a match. Perhaps that was Bayern’s play, though Barcelona did control possession. When healthy, we usually see Messi acquiesce and drop to join play when his team’s struggling to get him the ball. That he didn’t on Tuesday hints Messi was barely ready to go – far from his normal self.

Given how Bayern played, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where a healthy Messi would have meaningfully changed the match. Perhaps Barcelona returns to the Nou Camp with a prayer if their focal point is at his best, but it’s not as if we saw a series of chances wasted by Pedro Rodriguez, Alexis Sanchez, and David Villa. Barcelona just weren’t able to keep up, Messi or not.

In the end, his lack of impact may reinforce the idea that Barcelona’s era of dominance is over. Whereas the Guardiola era started with a team effort that meant Messi was only slightly more likely to score goals than the likes of Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry, it may end while a neutered squad flails for a Plan B amid the restrictions of their icon.

That’s a monster that Guardiola created, but it’s unlikely to be the end he envisioned. Especially with Guardiola set to take over Bayern this summer.

FA Cup: Three key battles between Arsenal, Chelsea

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The FA Cup final usually brings out terrific entertainment for the fans, and this Saturday’s finale should be no different.

When Arsenal and Chelsea take the field at Wembley Stadium, it will be the last chance this season for some of the Premier League’s stars such as Eden Hazard and Diego Costa for Chelsea and Alexis Sanchez and Mezut Ozil for Arsenal to bring glory to their club.

[ MORE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

The match features two teams heading in different directions. Chelsea, the Premier League champions are in the ascendency after a one-year hiatus out of European competition, while Arsenal finished outside the top-four places in the Premier League for the first time in 20 years under manager Arsene Wenger.

In addition, there’s plenty of other storylines to watch on the field, from whether it’s Costa, Sanchez and Ozil’s potential last matches with their respective teams to how Arsenal will deal without two of its three regular centerbacks they’ve used this season.

Here’s a look at three key battles on the field ahead of the FA Cup final:


Arsenal’s centerbacks vs. Diego Costa

Diego Costa may be a thorn in Chelsea’s side off the field when it comes to the constant speculation of a move away from Stamford Bridge, but on the field this season he’s been brilliant. Costa scored 20 goals in the Premier League and another goal in FA Cup action, and he contributes off the ball as well, drawing the defense in towards him while opening up space for teammates including Hazard and Willian.

Heading into Saturday, it’s unclear who on Arsenal will be tasked with marking Costa. Laurent Koscielny was issued a straight red card in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Everton and will miss the FA Cup final due to suspension while fellow centerback Gabriel left the field on a stretcher after suffering a knee injury. In addition, Shkodran Mustafi is still recovering from a concussion and is a doubt for Saturday.

That leaves Wenger with just Per Mertesacker and Rob Holding as healthy centerbacks, which could force Wenger to revert back to his usual four-man backline from the more recent three-man backline that’s been used.

Regardless of who Arsenal put out there, expect Costa to be at his best, attempting to physically dominate his opponent and get under their skin.


Nemanja Matic and N'Golo Kante vs. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez

Arsenal are at their best when they play through the middle of the field before finding runners out wide, setting up crossing attempts into the middle or perhaps another chance to play through the lines in the center of the field.

Standing in Arsenal’s playmaking duo of Mezut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez’s way are Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante. Kante, as Riyad Mahrez saw last year, does so much of the dirty work defensively that he allows his teammates including Matic and Hazard to bomb forward and either create or finish goal-scoring opportunities.

Kante will have his hands full dealing with Ozil and Sanchez in midfield, and Matic may need to sit a bit deeper to cut off the passing lanes, potentially taking him out of Chelsea’s counter attack.


Eden Hazard vs. Hector Bellerin

For all the speed that Hazard possesses on the ball, there’s at least one player on Arsenal who can keep stride pace-for-pace.

With Hazard likely lining up on the left wing, Arsenal’s right wing back Hector Bellerin will likely face Hazard up one-on-one at both ends of the field, setting up a fun encounter. With Bellerin’s speed and ability to track back, he may be open to a few 40-yard springs into space down the right wing, knowing that Hazard probably won’t be in hot pursuit.

But if Bellerin doesn’t end up with the ball and there’s an Arsenal turnover, Hazard on his own or against a centerback on the left wing could be a nightmare for Arsenal to deal with.

Man United, Man City come together to support terror victims

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The Manchester derby is known as one of the world’s fiercest rivalries, but in the wake of a devastating terrorist attack this week, both sides are joining together to support the city of Manchester and victims of the attack.

Manchester United and Manchester City announced Thursday they pledged together nearly $1.3 million into the We Love Manchester community fund. The fund was set up to assist the families of the 22 people who died and 64 people who were injured in the attack.

“The barbarism of Monday evening’s attack has shocked everyone,” Manchester United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward said in a statement. “Our clubs are right at the heart of our local communities in Manchester and it is right that we present a unified response to this tragedy. The money will help of course but the work of the two clubs and their respective foundation and community scheme can build on the fantastic spirit that Mancunians have shown in the immediate aftermath.”

Folks who want to donate to the fund can visit http://www.redcross.org.uk/manchester or http://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/redcross/ManchesterEmergencyFund.

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Liverpool, Leicester City headline Premier League Asia Trophy

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The Premier League is coming this summer to Hong Kong.

The territory in Southeast China will host the 2017 Premier League Asia Trophy, featuring Liverpool, Leicester City, West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace. The tournament will take place from July 19-22, with all games taking place at the 40,000-seat Hong Kong Stadium.

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“We are very excited to be returning to Hong Kong this summer for the Premier League Asia Trophy,” Premier League Executive Chairman Richard Scudamore said in a statement. “We know from previous visits that fans in Hong Kong, and across the region, are passionate supporters of our clubs.”

This summer’s edition of the biennial tournament is the first to feature four Premier League teams. In the past, an Asian All-Star XI or a local club would be the fourth team to take part. By bringing a fourth team over, the Premier League is increasing the opportunity for Premier League fans to have a chance to see more of the league’s stars up close and in person.

For Liverpool, it will be the start of a busy season that will include UEFA Champions League action for the first time since 2015.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Rooney has future decided, Navas, Clichy leave Man City

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Wayne Rooney appears to have made up his mind about his footballing future.

Speaking to reporters in Stockholm, Sweden following Manchester United’s 2-0 Europa League final victory over Ajax, Rooney revealed that he has numerous offers, both at home and abroad, and that he had “more or less” made up his mind.

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“There are lots of offers on the table, both in England and abroad, and that’s what I have to decide on,” Rooney said, via The Guardian. “I’ve got some decisions to make now over the next few weeks so I will talk with my family and then I’ll decide. I think I have to make a decision in terms of a football decision, and that’s what I’ll do, I’ll do that the next few weeks with my family while I’m away and as soon as I know what’s going on I’m sure you will.”

If Rooney does call time on his Manchester United stay, it will end a 13-year run with the club, having signed as a teenager from Everton in 2004. Despite being Manchester United’s leading scorer with 253 goals in 559 appearances, he never really won over the fans and won’t be remembered necessarily in the legendary status along with Ryan Giggs and Sir Bobby Charlton. Although he had seasons of 26 and 27 league goals, he was never able to keep up that goal-scoring consistency, although some of that can be chalked up to sacrificing his forward position for a deeper role to help defensively.

[ MORE: Sanchez linked with Bayern

Rooney, now 31-years old, won the Premier League five times with Manchester United as well as the UEFA Champions League and now Europa League once each. Rooney’s current Manchester United contract runs through June 2019, having signed an extension in 2014.


As Wayne Rooney continues to ponder his future, across town at Manchester City, the club has parted ways with four first-team players.

Man City announced Thursday that left back Gael Clichy, winger Jesus Navas, right back Bacary Sagna and goalkeeper Willy Caballero have all left the club. All four are at the end of their contracts and the quartet can leave on free transfers.

“It’s been a special six years for me at City,” Clichy said in a statement. “To win four major trophies and help establish the Club as one of the top teams in English football has been an incredible journey that I’m proud to have been a part of.

Clichy joined Man City in 2011 as it began its spending-spree to join the British and European elite soccer clubs while Navas joined in 2013 and both Caballero and Sagna a year later.

The three departures are not surprising and are likely part of a plan between manager Pep Guardiola and sporting director Txiki Begiristain to bolster the squad with younger players who can play in Guardiola’s high-intensity and high-pressure system.

Guardiola is expected to have a large transfer budget to upgrade his team this summer following a third-place finish in the Premier League and with three highly-paid players off the books, there’s also now more room in the wage budget to accommodate new signings.