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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.

Transfer rumor roundup: Pulisic in demand (Stoke?); Jones, Mangala, Nasri

ALTACH, AUSTRIA - AUGUST 05: Christian Pulisic of Dortmund (c) challenges Patrick Van Aanmolt of Sunderland (l) and Lee Cattermole of Sunderland (r) during the friendly match between AFC Sunderland v Borussia Dortmund at Cashpoint Arena on August 5, 2016 in Altach, Austria.  (Photo by Deniz Calagan/Getty Images)
Photo by Deniz Calagan/Getty Images
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As we discuss whether Bastian Schweinsteiger’s “last club in Europe” comments could mean a move to the United States (or Canada… or China), how about some rumors about an American making a move in Europe?

The Stoke Sentinel claims Mark Hughes is interested in bringing Christian Pulisic on loan from Borussia Dortmund, which would conveniently for USMNT fans put the youngsters in direct contact with veteran leader Geoff Cameron.

BVB boss Thomas Tuchel used Pulisic often toward the end of last season, and the six-times capped 17-year-old scored two goals in 12 matches for the German giants.

[ MORE: Pulis laments loss to Northampton Town ]

Stoke has plenty of talent in attack with Bojan Krkic, Xherdan Shaqiri, and others, and we’re not sure Tuchel would want Pulisic going to a place where he wouldn’t start regularly. He could have that at Dortmund.

Pulisic has also been linked with Red Bull Leipzig, Liverpool, and CSKA Moscow in recent weeks. A Champions League or Europa League club could be more intriguing to Dortmund, who have added a load of attacking talent since Pulisic burst onto the scene last season. Those additions — Mario Gotze, Ousmane Dembele, and Andre Schurrle — would’ve affected Pulisic’s status in the food chain (no shame at all, either).


We told you last night that Phil Jones remains in Jose Mourinho’s plans, and the London Evening Standard says Jones will not wind up at Arsenal, regardless of the interest or wallet of Arsene Wenger.

That’s because longtime rival Mourinho has no interest in helping out Wenger, and also sees a chance for the out-of-favor center back to have a future at Old Trafford.

Jones is behind Daley Blind, Chris Smalling, and Eric Bailly amongst others at United. Southampton’s Jose Fonte could be arriving soon. Will Jones really stay?


Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City will be without Eliaquim Mangala and Samir Nasri, according to reports. Mangala is being targeted for a loan by Napoli, who is also trying to hold onto Chelsea target Kalidou Koulibaly ($80 million). Several outlets continue to play with the idea that Nasri could head to Besiktas.

Schweinsteiger says Manchester United will be his “last club in Europe”… MLS much?

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - JULY 07:  Olivier Giroud of France shields the ball from Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany during the UEFA EURO semi final match between Germany and France at Stade Velodrome on July 7, 2016 in Marseille, France.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Bastian Schweinsteiger is taking the high road when discussing his lack of playing time under Jose Mourinho, and is also fueling fire in Major League Soccer’s rumor mill (along with China, India, and Qatar).

Schweinsteiger, 32, has trained with United’s U-21 side under Mourinho and has also retired from Germany duty.

He took to Twitter on Wednesday to talk to his fan about his “current situation”, saying that United was a dream of his and that he will not be moving to another club in Europe.

Many have speculated that Schweinsteiger could come to Major League Soccer, a league that impressed him when Bayern Munich played the MLS All Stars last summer.

If that happened, who could do with a little “Schweiny”?

  1. Atlanta United — You think Carlos Bocanegra doesn’t know the value of a steady, veteran presence in the middle of his park?
  2. New England Revolution — Remember what the Jermaine Jones signing did for a struggling and off-balance Jay Heaps squad?
  3. DC United and Chicago Fire — This has less to do with need or fit, and more to do with me wanting to see two fan bases getting deserved excitement. And lest we forget that Chicago was done wrong in the Jermaine Jones saga.

West Brom boss Pulis laments EFL Cup loss to Northampton Town

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - AUGUST 20: West Bromwich Albion Manager Tony Pulis  before the Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Everton at The Hawthorns on August 20, 2016 in West Bromwich, England. (Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images)
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Tony Pulis sounds a bit defensive — pun half-intended — about West Brom’s loss to Northampton Town in the EFL Cup on Wednesday.

His Baggies have started the season 1-1, winning at Palace and losing versus Everton, but the loss in a Cup competition is obviously stinging the veteran manager.

[ MORE: Champions League roundup ]

Pulis, 58, started a lineup that should’ve won comfortably, and the team went for it against the League One side in 2-2 (PKs, 4-3) match.

But conceding twice and losing in penalties really angered Pulis, who saw James Morrison and much-maligned striker Saido Berahino miss their kicks.

From the BBC:

“I wish Northampton all the best. They worked really hard and kept at it.

“If we have come here and didn’t open them up and didn’t play well then you can slaughter us, but we did that. We’ve not hit the back of the net and that’s what you have to do.

“I understand supporters – if you’re not winning you’re not going to be happy, whether it’s me or another manager.”

Pulis is 22W-23D-25L as West Brom’s manager, but has done well on the whole with the club. Perhaps his style of play is frustrating, but he’s also brought in weapons like Matty Phillips and Brendan Galloway this year and is attempting to spur the club into something a bit more exciting. His comments have us wondering, though, if he’s feeling a bit of heat.

Burnley’s Andre Gray charged by FA over Twitter posts from 2012

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - AUGUST 13: Andre Gray of Burnley during the Premier League match between Burnley and Cardiff City at Turf Moor on  August 13, 2016 in Burnley, England. (Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images)
Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images
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A Premier League player is set to be punished by English football authorities for discriminatory comments he made on social media more than four years ago.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The comments made by Burnley striker Andre Gray between Jan. 9 and March 11, 2012 appeared anti-gay. They came to light on Saturday, when they were retweeted by other people after he scored his first Premier League goal for Burnley in the team’s 2-0 win over Liverpool. Gray released a public apology after the match.

Gray was charged with misconduct on Tuesday by the Football Association, which said the alleged comments “were abusive and/or insulting and/or improper and/or brought the game into disrepute.”

Gray said in his apology “the tweets were posted four years ago when I was a completely different person to the man I am now.”

“I have experienced a lot over the past four years and have had to take responsibility for a number of things in my life which has enabled me to mature and grow as a person since that time,” the 25-year-old Gray said.

“I have a lot of regrets regarding a number of things I’ve done in the past and realize I have made some big mistakes, none more so than these tweets, but I would like to stress that I’ve worked incredibly hard to completely transform my life since that time.”

[ MORE: Champions League roundup — Roma self-destruct; Celtic sneak in ]

Gray said he wanted to clarify that he was “absolutely not homophobic” and to “ask for forgiveness to anyone I offended.”

The FA said Gray had until Aug. 31 to respond to the charge.

“He has moved a long way in life,” Burnley manager Sean Dyche said Tuesday. “He’s made that clear with an apology and also to remind the club, `It’s four years ago, I’m a different person.’

“A lot has gone on in his life to get him where he’s got to, I think he made that clear. It was authentic what he said (in the apology).”

Gray was the top scorer in the second-tier League Championship last season, helping Burnley achieve an immediate return to the Premier League.