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.

Day Three: All the action from the U20 World Cup

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With the 2017 U-20 World Cup underway in South Korea, we can forgive you if you haven’t seen much of the action yet.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup latest

Due to the time difference most of the games kicking off in the wee hours (if you’re on the East Coast of the U.S.), so we thought we’d give you a chance to catch up on what you might have missed while you were sleeping.

Click on the link above for all the latest news from the U-20 World Cup, while below are video highlights from Monday’s four games as Groups E and F were in action.


Group E – France 3-0 Honduras

Group E – New Zealand 0-0 Vietnam 

Group F – Ecuador 3-3 USA 

Group F – Saudi Arabia 0-2 Senegal

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Sanchez to Bayern; Lukaku to Chelsea

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The Alexis Sanchez to Bayern Munich links continue with the Arsenal forward having just one year left on his contract and now Arsenal out of the UEFA Champions League for next season.

[ MORE: Kroenke speaks out ]

Sanchez’s international teammate, and Bayern Munich midfielder, Arturo Vidal has added further fuel to that fire.

Vidal spoke to Spanish outlet Sport and revealed he has been asked about Sanchez by the Bayern hierarchy and he wants the Chilean star to swap the Premier League for the Bundesliga.

“He is doing great at Arsenal but I think he needs to take an extra step to fight amongst the best in the world and that is why he has to come to the best team in the world. He would do great here,” Vidal is quoted as saying.

Would Bayern be a good fit for Sanchez? It would certainly be the preferred choice for Arsenal if they did have to sell him this summer.

The Gunners would be reluctant to sell to any of their Premier League rivals, so this could suit everyone. Of course they wouldn’t want to lose the man who scored 24 PL goals and added 10 assists this season, but the reality is stark for the Gunners.

Sanchez would surely slot in seamlessly with Bayern’s fluid attacking front three and as the likes of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery enter the twilight of their careers, Sanchez could be the main man in Bavaria for the next three to four years. This move would also provide Sanchez with a return to UCL action, something Arsenal can no longer offer him.


Just one day after the season came to a close Romelu Lukaku is being heavily linked with a return to Chelsea.

The London Evening Standard reports that Chelsea have put Lukaku, 24, at the top of their summer wishlist and ahead of Alvaro Morata.

Lukaku has two years left on his current Everton deal but has refused to sign a new contract and the Belgian international is being chased by several of Europe’s top clubs. His 25 goals this season meant he was the second-highest goalscorer in the PL and as reports about Diego Costa‘s leaving Chelsea for China this summer continue, Lukaku would be the perfect replacement.

Everton boss Ronald Koeman has admitted that the Belgian forward will leave to go on and become a star at a giant club but the Toffees were perhaps hoping it would be for the 2018-19 season.

As for Lukaku, he may feel like he has some unfinished business at Chelsea after being loaned out to West Brom and Everton after joining Chelsea in 2011 for a fee rising to $25 million. He played just 15 times for Chelsea and failed to score.

With his power, pace and aerial ability, you have to think Lukaku would be perfect for Chelsea’s counterattacking style. That said, his hold-up play is the one thing holding him back and that’s where Costa excels.

Chelsea sold Lukaku to Everton in 2013 for $36 million and it is believed he would cost Chelsea over double that amount to buy him back. The Blues have bought back players they sold in the past with Nemanja Matic and David Luiz prime examples, but this deal to bring back Lukaku would be a huge admittance by Chelsea that they got this one wrong.

John Terry explains 26th minute exit; winning bets revealed

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John Terry was subbed out of his 717th and final appearance for Chelsea in the 26th minute of their 5-1 victory against Sunderland on Sunday.

[ MORE: Chelsea hungry for more glory ]

Chelsea’s legendary captain called an end to his 22-year career with the Blues and the 36-year-old is yet to announce if he will retire from the game this summer or continuing playing elsewhere.

There is plenty of controversy surrounding how his final moments on the pitch for Chelsea played out.

Despite coming off in the 26th minute (his shirt number is 26) with a guard of honor from his teammates, applause from the Sunderland players and a huge ovation from the supporters at Stamford Bridge, many believe this wasn’t the right way to do things.

Speaking to Sky Sports after the game, Terry revealed that he and Conte struck an agreement before the match and that it was his idea.

“I kind of negotiated with the manager to play 26 minutes and come off,” Terry said. “I think he wanted to get the boys that didn’t play on Monday night against Watford and give them a run-out. It was a compromise between the two of us.”

Following the planned farewell it has also been revealed that several UK bookmakers have paid out on bets on Terry being subbed out in the 26th minute. Odds of 100-1 were being offered on Terry coming off in the 26th minute and although it was technically the 28th minute by the time he walked off, bookmakers in the UK were still paying out.

As things stand the bets placed on Terry’s early exit will not be investigated by the soccer authorities.

The planned nature of this farewell has not sat well with plenty of soccer purists and those suggesting that Terry wanted to milk his farewell.

I understand those arguments but with Terry able to captain Chelsea for one final time, the man who led the Blues to five Premier League titles as skipper and also won 15 major trophies at the club should be the one to decide how he bows out.

Conte was fine for it as he got to rest Gary Cahill for nearly 30 minutes ahead of the FA Cup final. Chelsea’s fans loved it. Terry’s teammates loved it. And so did Terry.

He said farewell once and for all and this final game was all about two things for Chelsea: lifting the PL trophy at the end, and Terry saying goodbye. The result didn’t matter and no matter how you feel about Terry’s planned farewell, you have to accept it happened.

Stan Kroenke releases statement on Arsenal

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Arsenal’s majority shareholder Stan Kroenke has issued a statement regarding his future ownership of the club.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

The American billionaire was at the center of fan unrest on Sunday as Arsenal finished fifth in the Premier League, missing out on a top four finish for the first time in 21 seasons under Arsene Wenger.

Kroenke’s fellow Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov (he owns 30 percent of the shares) last week offered over $1.3 billion for Kroenke’s 67 percent stake in the Gunners but Kroenke turned the bid down.

Now the company which also owns the LA Rams, Colorado Rapids, Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets, Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, have issued the following defiant statement.

“KSE UK, Inc notes the recent media speculation concerning its holding in Arsenal Holdings PLC and confirms that its shares are not, and never have been, for sale. KSE is a committed, long term investor in Arsenal and will remain so.”

That is about as definitive as it gets.

Kroenke will remain at Arsenal and until the situation regarding Wenger’s future, and that of star players Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez is sorted out, fans will continue to vent their anger at the American businessman.

With the Gunners preparing for Europa League action next season, the only thing which could save Kroenke and Co. from more unrest over the summer is if Arsenal beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Saturday.

Even that would only provide momentary respite before fans, former players and everyone else begins to look for answers to the bigger-picture questions on where Arsenal are heading on Kroenke’s leadership.

What a mess.