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Champions League preview: Borussia Dortmund will not face the same Real Madrid

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Wednesday’s match at the Westfalenstadion marks the third of four times Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid will meet this season – exactly four times more than the reigning Bundesliga and La Liga champions usually meet each year. Before meeting in group stage, the two clubs hadn’t played a competitive match since 2003, when a 1-1 draw in Dortmund allowed the Merengues to move past BVB and into the Champions League quarterfinals.

This latest meeting is the first leg of the teams’ UEFA Champions League semifinal, a match set to build on the two games the sides played in group stage. Taking four points from Real Madrid, BVB used the Spanish titans to establish their Champions League bonafides, putting last year’s disappointment behind them as they claimed first in the group.

Unfortunately for Jurgen Klopp’s team, a number of things have changed since the teams met last fall, none of which augur well for his young team’s chances:

Real Madrid rebuilt

Looking back on the fall, Real Madrid seemed like a team that needed a rest. Playing below expectations both domestically and in Europe, los Blancos were putting their boss’s job in jeopardy. José Mourinho needed to shake things up.

What followed were two months of The Special One challenging Madrid player power. Conflicts with Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos saw the captain dropped and the defense’s leader temporarily lose time, with Mourinho throwing Real’s dressing room into upheaval. When the team was reformed, Diego Lopez was in goal, Raphael Varane was getting some of Pepe’s time in defense, and Real Madrid had a team capable of eliminating Manchester United in the quarters.

They’re much stronger now than when the teams last met: a 2-2 draw on Nov. 6 at the Bernabeu.

“The four goals we conceded against Dortmund in the group stage were all our mistakes,” Mourinho explained on Tuesday. “Should we concede again in these two games, I hope it would be because of fantastic and unstoppable goals, not ones created by our mistakes.”

Dortmund’s close call

BVB needed one of the biggest Champions League comebacks ever to make it to the semifinals, with two-second leg stoppage time goals allowing them to eliminate Málaga. Against an experienced coach employing a pragmatic approach, Dortmund nearly allowed themselves to be eliminated on home soil, and while those descriptions also apply to José Mourinho’s team, Málaga aren’t Real Madrid. They’re nowhere near their level.

There are two ways to interpret what happened in the quarterfinals:

  • One: BVB still have a lot to learn on their way to being European elite. Málaga’s performance illustrated just how far they have to go.
  • Two: The close call will serve as a type of end of innocence, educating Klopp’s side to the commitment required to navigate Champions League.

Option two seems much more likely. Borussia Dortmund have to know they can’t play as bad as they did against Málaga and expect to eliminate Real Madrid. Whether they truly realize the task at hand, however, is another question entirely.

source: Getty ImagesMario Gotze: Distraction

Borussia Dortmund tried to keep Götze’s impending move under wraps, but when German outlet Bild learned the news, BVB had to fess up. One day before their first leg against Madrid, the club was forced to confirm their best player would be leaving for a rival on July 1.

“On a scale of one to ten [news of Götze’s transfer on the eve of the game] would be a nine,” Klopp admitted on Tuesday. “The only way the timing could have been worse would have been if it came four hours before the match.”

There’s no way this isn’t a major distraction. Klopp’s conceding as much. The Götze affair can be overcome or put into perspective, but a team doesn’t learn about the departure of a key talent and just set that aside. You can’t just pretend that doesn’t exist.

For a squad of players who’ve never been this far in Champions League, this is another obstacle that could potentially derail them. Klopp:

Everyone should support the team tomorrow, no matter what – Real Madrid cannot capitalise on this. If someone does not understand how much heart has gone into getting this far, they should not come. Those who understand will support the team unconditionally. Our fans have reacted extremely well in extreme situations in the past. I think that will be the case again.

Now or never for Real

Mourinho was brought in to win the decima – Real Madrid’s 10th European title – and with it all but guaranteed he’ll move on after this season, it’s now or never for this group of players. They either claim the title and bring to fruition the hopes Florentino Perez fostered when he started spending four years ago, or they fall and light the fuse on a project that will be blown up.

All of which is to say the stakes are much higher now than they were in November. Then, Real Madrid knew they would get through group stage one way or another, and having taken two teams from second place group finishes to Champions League titles (Porto 2003-04, Internazionale 2009-10), José Mourinho knows early stage stumbles don’t have to derail a campaign.

He also knows when to have his team turn it up. With his time at Real Madrid to be defined by these next three Champions League matches, the Merengues will be at their best.

“When I joined this club, it was already very successful,” Mourinho explained, “but we were not among the top seeds. The club has been developed. Madrid are one of those clubs where finishing second counts for nothing – so we have to reach the final and win.”

Notes

  • Real Madrid come into the match off a 3-1 Saturday win over visiting Real Betis.
  • Dortmund led the entire way against visiting Mainz, a first minute goal from Marco Reus spurring BVB to a 2-0 win.
  • Neither team has any injury concerns that will affect their starting XIs, with the only absence likely to be on the Real Madrid side. Alvaro Arbeloa is suspended after picking up a late yellow card in the second leg against Galatasaray.
  • Robert Lewandowski extended his club record scoring streak on Saturday, recording a goal in his 12th straight Bundesliga match.
  • Cristiano Ronaldo comes into the game as the competition’s leading scorer with 11 goals in 10 games. His 50 all-competition goals mark the third straight year the Portuguese has hit the half-century mark.

Possible lineups

Borussia Dortmund (4-2-3-1): Roman Weindenfeller; Marcel Schmeltzer, Mats Hummels, Neven Subotic, Lukasz Pisczcek; Ilkay Gundogan, Sven Bender; Marco Reus, Mario Götze, Jakub Blaszczykowski.

Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Diego Lopez; Fabio Coentrao, Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos, Michael Essien; Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira; Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria; Karim Benzema.

VIDEO: Claudio Ranieri admits tactical mistakes after another road defeat

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Ever-gracious Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri has taken full responsibility for the Foxes’ recent struggles, claiming his lineup tinkering has fallen flat.

The Italian said following the 3-0 defeat to Southampton that he has tried a few different formations to maximize his players’ abilities, but that it hasn’t worked out.

[ RECAP: Leicester falls on the road again at Southampton ]

“I think the last two matches I changed the shape to try and help my players to play better and find the right solution, but maybe I make mistakes. I am wrong against Chelsea when I play with three at the back, and also today when I wanted to play with a diamond. My players are used to playing with a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-2-3-1 and they recognize the position, the game, everything, the movement. I wanted to give something more, but I make a mistake, I was wrong.”

Honesty sure is Ranieri’s best policy, and deflecting criticism from his players is clearly the tactic here. Managers often like to play down the importance of tactical formations at times, but here it clearly has weighed on Ranieri’s mind, who may revert back to his tested formations.

[ MORE: Is Pep Guardiola unhappy in the Premier League? ]

“I think it’s much better to give to them what they know very well. I look and they had to push a lot with this system and this mentality, and keep going and improve of course.”

Whatever the case, something will have to change with Leicester City this season if they wish to continue in the English top-flight. The Foxes have gone all season without a single away win, and they’re 15th in the table with just 21 points, five above the relegation zone.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Everton rescue Ivanovic, Insigne to Arsenal

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea in action during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Burnley at Stamford Bridge on August 27, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)
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Just nine days remain until the transfer window closes, and teams are gearing up for the stretch run that always provides plenty of action despite what’s been an uncharacteristically quiet January so far.

Chelsea has already shed a bit of dead weight in sending Oscar to China, and they could find suitors for another cast-away in Branislav Ivanovic as well. According to the Liverpool Echo, Ronald Koeman is hoping to bring Ivanovic to Everton as the Toffees look to secure a top seven position in the table.

Ivanovic has been a staple at Chelsea for years, but since being dropped by Antonio Conte on October 1st, he’s managed just 43 Premier League minutes as the Blues exploded on their record-tying winning streak. The 33-year-old doesn’t exactly fit into Conte’s system, but he apparently intrigues the Everton front office.

That move, apparently, could be the trigger that forces a longtime Everton defender to see his way out. According to the Daily Mail, Toffees captain Phil Jagielka has spoken with with Koeman to discuss his future at the club. Jagielka, like Ivanovic, began the season as an obvious choice in the starting lineup, but was dropped in early December and has seen just two Premier League appearances since as Everton has lost just twice since then.

Over in Italy, Napoli winger Lorenzo Insigne is having a fantastic season, and it’s alerting clubs domestically and abroad. His contract doesn’t expire in Naples until 2019, but there’s talk of a contract extension due to his stellar season which has seen him bag six Serie A goals and five assists in 20 appearances. According to reports in Italy, Insigne is now shelving contract talks with interest abound. AC Milan is also said to be desiring his services as they push to break into the top echelon of the table, but the Gunners could also swoop, especially if Napoli is unwilling to match his contract demands.

One player who is wanted across the Premier League is Atalanta midfielder Franck Kessie. With links to Manchester United, Everton, Liverpool and Chelsea as well as Paris Saint-Germain, it’s certain to gain steam as Deadline Day approaches, but according to reports in Europe, Atalanta is prepared to ward off all interest by turning down all bids for the player. Kessie, an Ivory Coast international, has helped Atalanta to the 7th spot in the Serie A table, but is currently on international duty in the African Cup of Nations. He has six goals this season from the defensive midfield spot, although four of those came in the first three league games of the season.

Watch Live: Arsenal vs. Burnley (Lineups & Live Stream)

SWANSEA, WALES - JANUARY 14:  Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Arsenal at Liberty Stadium on January 14, 2017 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)
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Arsenal has the chance to go second in the table as the host Burnley at the Emirates live at 9:15 a.m ET on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

Hector Bellerin, Francis Coquelin, and Kieran Gibbs have all returned from injury for the Gunners, and all feature on the bench as Arsene Wenger has the chance to leap both Liverpool and Tottenham with all three points. Theo Walcott, however, is still out with a calf injury, allowing Wenger to leave his side unchanged from the 4-0 win over Swansea City.

[ WATCH LIVE: Arsenal vs. Burnley live online at NBCSports.com ]

Olivier Giroud starts up front for the Gunners with a goal in each of his last four games, while Alexis Sanchez is also in fantastic form, with six goals in his last eight games. Sanchez starts again despite his ugly body language after being substituted in the Swansea game with the game well decided, as Wenger played down the issue after the match.

Burnley, meanwhile, could potentially jump into the top half of the table if they could pull off the upset, currently in 13th on 26 points. Dean Marney and Ashley Barnes both return to the lineup after being held out midweek in the FA Cup match against win over Sunderland, but Johann Berg Gudmundsson is still out with an injury, having made just three appearances since late November.

Arsenal has held three consecutive clean sheets against Burnley, with Sean Dyche looking to turn around his team’s away form. The Clarets have earned just a single point all season away from home, the worst away record in the Premier League.

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Cech, Gabriel, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Iwobi, Ozil, Alexis, Giroud.
Subs: Ospina, Gibbs, Bellerin, Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck, Lucas.

Burnley: Heaton; Lowton, Keane, Mee, Ward; Boyd, Marney, Hendrick, Defour; Barnes, Gray.
Subs: Robinson, Flanagan, Tarkowski, Barton, Kightly, Darikwa, Vokes.

Southampton 3-0 Leicester City: Saints swarm from start to finish

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Jay Rodriguez (R) of Southampton celebrates scoring his team's second goal wit his team mate Ryan Bertrand (L) during the Premier League match between Southampton and Leicester City at St Mary's Stadium on January 22, 2017 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Southampton dominated from beginning to end, putting a stop to their four-match losing streak thanks to a 3-0 win over Leicester City at St. Mary’s. James Ward-Prowse and Jay Rodriguez both hit first-half goals as the Foxes remain without an away win in Premier League play this season, while Dusan Tadic finished it off late from the spot.

The game’s first opportunity fell to Southampton, who had pushed forward more in the opening 10 minutes. A cross from the left by Nathan Redmond picked out Dusan Tadic in the area, and the Serbian rose high above Christian Fuchs, but his header from close range soared just above the bar.

The Saints flooded Leicester’s box as they pressed high early, and they worked a shot for Pierre-Emil Hojbjerg on nine minutes in that he blasted into the stands. Hojbjerg had a better chance as Tadic fizzed a low ball across the box on 19 minutes, and it deflected across to the far post where Redmond had a shot, but Kasper Schmeichel slid low to make the save.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

It remained all Saints as the clock ticked past 25 minutes, and they eventually found the deserved goal. Cedric Soares burst down the right edge of the box, and he clipped the ball to Ward-Prowse who hammered the a curling ball past Schmeichel into the back of the net, a beautiful finish to put Southampton up 1-0 with England manager Gareth Southgate in attendance.

Leicester never truly built themselves into the game in the first half as they continue to search for their first away win of the season. Five minutes before halftime, Southampton pushed the game further out of reach with a second. A free-kick by Ward-Prowse came barreling in, and Maya Yoshida got a head to it, pushing the ball towards the post where Rodriguez was there to crash it into the net.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

There was a worry after the break for Southampton as Virgil van Djik went down injured and had to come off. With Jose Fonte already sold this window, it forced the club to bring on 22-year-old Jack Stephens. They had a chance to put the game away on the hour mark as Fuchs sent Hojbjerg clean through, but he put it wide with just Schmeichel to beat.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The Foxes slowly began to work themselves into things with 20 minutes to go, but it was too little too late. Wes Morgan somehow missed for Leicester with a great chance on the half-volley. He was relieved down the other end as it appeared Morgan had put the ball in his own net for a third Southampton goal, but referee Michael Oliver disallowed it for offside after conferring with the assistant. Replays showed Maya Yoshida may have his arm in an offside position, but otherwise there was little to suggest the flag should have gone up.

The Saints did get one last goal as Morgan barreled over Shane Long in the penalty area, earning him a yellow card and forcing Michael Oliver to point to the spot. Tadic obliterated the ball, pummeling it into the top right corner from the spot for his second goal of the season and Southampton’s third of the day.

With the win, Southampton moved above both Bournemouth and Burnley into 11th, while Leicester City remains just five points above the relegation zone in 15th position. On the season, Leicester has garnered just three points on the road, with draws against Tottenham, Stoke City, and Middlesbrough, having lost all the rest.