Jose Mourinho out-coached by Jurgen Klopp – But how good is the German manager?

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After Dortmund’s stunning 4-1 thrashing of Real Madrid in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-final, one thing is clear: Jose Mourinho was thoroughly out-coached by Jurgen Klopp. Let’s take a look at each of the meetings between these two and determine where Klopp fits among the best managers in world football.

Paired together in this season’s Champions League group of death (Group D), Dortmund and Madrid first faced off in October 24th at the now famed Signal Iduna Park. After Robert Lewandowksi broke the deadlock in the 36th minute, Cristiano Ronaldo leveled two minutes later with a sensational lob that cut the Yellow Wall down to a whisper. The leveler changed the complexion of the game and many believed Mourinho would seize the momentum going into the second half. But it didn’t happen. Instead, it was Dortmund who collected itself, neutralized Ronaldo, and were the stronger second-half side, deservedly getting a 64th minute winner through Marcel Schmelzer’s volley.

The win had pundits shocked and most attributed the victory to Dortmund’s fantastic home support. It was predicted to be a different story when the two sides met at Madrid’s Santiago Bernebeu two weeks later, with Los Blancos heavy favorites. But it would take an exquisite 88th minute Mesut Ozil free-kick that bounced off the post and in to provide Madrid with a 2-2 draw.

Klopp’s men had once again contained Ronaldo and outplayed their opponent prompting Mourinho to predict: “If they go through they are candidates to win the tournament.” Consensus was that Dortmund had been unlucky to draw 2-2 at the Bernabéu but they nevertheless had taken four points off Madrid. All across Europe the talk was of Jurgen Klopp.

The Dortmund manager revealed how he took apart Madrid in an interview with El País before Los Merengues met Manchester United in the Round of 16. “We knew where they send their passes, how they look for Cristiano,” Klopp said. “Our plan was to take Xabi Alonso out of the game. Because if Alonso is allowed to play how he wants it’s impossible to defend against Madrid. And Götze covered him. We knew that if our wide players, Piszczek and Schmelzer move a lot, the advantage was ours on Cristiano’s side of the pitch. If you block Xabi, you oblige Pepe to always keep the ball.”

A well reasoned plan, if there ever was one. But why would Klopp show his hand like that? Was it cockiness? Doubtful, as the manager is known to be as down-to-earth as they come. Perhaps he was simply trying to provide a blue-print for other squads to take the reigns in knocking Mourinho’s team out of the competition. Unfortunately for United, it didn’t work.

So when Madrid and Dortmund were paired for the semi-finals one expected that Mourinho would have a re-designed game plan. Certainly the ‘Special One’ would have figured out BVB’s weakness and concocted a means to exploit it. After all, this was exactly what he did when managing Inter Milan in the 2010 Champions League. After losing and drawing to Barcelona in the group stage, Mourinho’s men faced the Blaugrana in the semi-finals and knocked them out.

So naturally, the question going into last night’s match was – What would Mourinho could come up with to put an end to Klopp’s brief dominance? The answer, as the footballing world saw so clearly, was nothing. Despite going into the match as slight favorites to win at Westfalenstadion, Madrid were trounced by the plucky German side. And how did Klopp do it? Pretty much the  exact same way he explained to El País in February, by eliminating Xabi Alonso and denying Madrid the left side (Ronaldo’s side) of the pitch.

Did Ronaldo manage to get on the score sheet? Sure. But besides that moment, which was 99% constructed by Gonzalo Higuain, Ronaldo was completely shut down by Lukasz Piszcek, Marco Reus, Sven Bender and Ilkay Gundogen. Klopp’s defense was compact, working in a 35 yard zone between midfield and the top of their 18 yard box. Any possession that Madrid enjoyed was among the back four. Pepe was once again put into focus and couldn’t handle the pressure. Why Mourinho chose to play the fiery center-back – or Luka Modric in an advanced position where he couldn’t find the ball – is anyone’s guess. Anyone except Klopp, of course.

Since arriving at Dortmund in 2008, Klopp was won two Bundesliga titles, a DFB-Pokal title and a DFL-Supercup. Making those feats even more impressive is that Klopp managed to do this at a club that was on the brink of bankruptcy in 2006. With his side’s impressive run of form in this season’s Champions League, it looks the sky is the limit for the German gaffer.

Yet while Klopp’s recent achievement and tactical genius should earn him a place as one of the Top 5 managers in the game today, he still ranks well behind Mourinho. The same path that Klopp is currently trying to tread was blazed down by Mourinho 10 years ago when his Porto side surprised everyone to win the 2003-04 Champions League title. Since then the Portuguese manager has gone on to win an additional 14 trophies in nine years including two Premier League titles and an FA Cup with Chelsea, a Champions League title and two Serie A titles with Inter Milan, and a La Liga and Copa del Rey title with Real Madrid.

There’s no question that the Dortmund manager has a long way to go before he reaches the feats of Mourinho. But if anyone looks poised to overtake the title of “The Special One,” it’s Klopp.

Dani Alves fires back at Diego Forlan

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After Neymar and Edinson Cavani’s penalty drama that has blown up over the last few days and potentially led to Neymar’s exclusion from the PSG squad this weekend, Uruguayan legend Diego Forlan went on sports radio in his home country to not just back his former international teammate Cavani, but also throw a pair of Brazilians under the bus.

Forlan obviously denounced Neymar’s role in the dispute, but he also picked out Neymar’s club and country teammate Dani Alves for favoring his countrymate.

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“What doesn’t make any sense is what Alves does, he doesn’t give the ball to Cavani and then gives it to Neymar as if he were his [explitive]. Cavani deserves respect. He has been scoring goals for years, taking penalties. There has to be respect. Neymar would not have done that with [Lionel] Messi. He didn’t want Cavani to take the penalty. He was like a little boy annoying him.”

Well, as you can imagine, Alves did not take kindly to being sucked into the fray, and fired back as a result. “I don’t know what match you were watching,” Alves wrote on Twitter, “but for your information, I didn’t take the ball away from any of my teammates. It was just the opposite, it was taken from me!

“And also for your information, the last penalty kick for PSG was mine. So shut your trap and stop making drama in my name.”

This whole situation has blown up more than most penalty disputes (which happen relatively often) likely due to the international affiliations. With the decades-old bad blood between Brazil and Uruguay, it’s no surprise that people are taking sides. Forlan swept up another Brazilian in the mix, and understandably he did not appreciate the cheap shot.

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Liverpool

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  • Leicester City has won 2 straight home PL games vs Liverpool
  • Jamie Vardy has 5 goals in 3 PL games vs Liverpool
  • Liverpool leads the PL with 40 shots on target this season

Jamie Vardy is good to go for the Foxes as they welcome Liverpool to the King Power Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 a.m. ET on NBC or live online via NBCSports.com).

These two teams matched up midweek in League Cup play, with Leicester City winning 2-0, and they did so without Vardy who missed out with a groin strain. He’s since recovered, and will likely play a part. Christian Fuchs and Leonardo Ulloa are also ready to go, with Fuchs back after an eye injury in training, while Ulloa took a knock to the head midweek but is ready to go.

The Foxes need a win in the worst way, as a loss would leave them with their joint-worst point total through the first six matches of a top flight season since 1994/95, the year they were relegated.

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Liverpool, meanwhile, has issues of its own to sort out. They are winless in all competitions since August 27th, and on a larger scale, Jurgen Klopp is taking heat for having less points than Brendan Rodgers did through his first 73 league games of his Liverpool tenure.

The Reds are also facing a bit of injury trouble, with Dejan Lovren still out with back problems, while Joel Matip and Emre Can both suffered slight injuries in the midweek loss and are questionable for Saturday. Should all those miss out, the already leaky defense would prove even more porous.

What they’re saying

Jurgen Klopp on Liverpool chasing the ball: “We come too close together in the situation where the first ball is going after a throw-in and it means for the second ball we don’t have a good formation. We need to get more natural in these things because it’s not that difficult to be honest but it happens too often. Now we have to work and then it will be even more difficult to create something against us.”

Craig Shakespeare on Jamie Vardy vs. Liverpool: “Is he a bogeyman? I am hoping so. Sometimes strikers will have good memories of playing against certain teams. Centre forwards go through these purple patches and everybody would like one who can get you 20 goals a season.”

Prediction

If anything is certain in a Liverpool match, it’s that the first goal doesn’t matter. Since the start of last season, the Reds are tops in the league with 20 points from losing positions. However, they’re also fifth in the league in that same timeframe with 20 points lost from winning positions. With that in mind, a wild game is likely in store, but with the inconsistent form for either side of late, it’s tough to pick a winner. A 2-2 draw is a likely result.

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 17 of its last 23 Premier League games
  • Alvaro Morata has 3 goals and 2 assists, all with his head
  • Stoke has lost just 1 of its past 7 home games vs defending champions

Eden Hazard is back and at full strength as Chelsea travels to the Britannia to take on Stoke City Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

With Hazard back and Diego Costa finally shed to Atletico Madrid, the Blues have positioned themselves to make a run at the Premier League’s top spot. Chelsea has not lost since their Opening Day misstep against Burnley, and despite firing a blank in last weekend’s 0-0 draw with the Gunners, Chelsea is still just three points off the top spot, and will look to put pressure on the Manchester clubs.

In addition to Hazard, the Blues also get Temoue Bakayoko and Pedro back in the lineup as well, although David Luiz is suspended after his late red card last weekend.

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This season has been a roller coaster ride for Stoke City, having picked up four points against Arsenal and Manchester United, but also losing to Newcastle and Everton, plus a very disappointing defeat midweek to Bristol City in the Cup. The Potters are missing a host of defenders, with Geoff Cameron and Ryan Shawcross both injured, plus Kurt Zouma ineligible to face his parent club. Kevin Wimmer is also touch and go with a hamstring injury, not expected to be available.

What they’re saying

Mark Hughes on Chelsea’s discipline issues: “Chelsea at the moment look like they are getting yellow and red cards more frequently, but that might be just an anomaly, something happening in the moment. I don’t think it is prevalent in their team. They are just strong when they need to be. It is not going to be tactic we are going to irritate them with, to step over the line, because if I’m honest I don’t think I’ll have the players to do that.”

Antonio Conte on Stoke: “The most important thing for us is to go game by game. Tomorrow it will be a really tough game. We must prepare very well this game in all the situations, tactically, physically, to be disciplined. Stoke won against Arsenal and then drew against Manchester United. It means Stoke is a really good team.”

Prediction

Stoke City has given tough teams trouble, and could again if Maxim Chupo-Moting shows up at his best again, but it’s much more likely that Chelsea will ease by in this game. The Potters have fallen off slightly this season, and while their draw against Manchester United shows they pack some punch, it won’t be enough to see off a Chelsea side buoyed by the return of Eden Hazard. Chelsea could win their opening three Premier League away matches for the first time since 2009…their third away fixture of that campaign was a 2-1 victory at Stoke, so we’ll go for the same scoreline here.

Hope Solo says she has settled grievance with US Soccer

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Hope Solo has settled a grievance with U.S. Soccer over her suspension from the women’s national team following comments she made at the Rio Olympics.

The settlement was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. The 35-year-old goalkeeper was suspended for six months and her contract with the federation was terminated after she called the Swedish team “a bunch of cowards” following the U.S. team’s quarterfinal loss.

Details about the settlement, reached last month, were not released. The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Players Association filed the grievance on Solo’s behalf.

In a statement provided Friday to The Associated Press, Solo reiterated her regret over the comments.

“As I expressed in my apology to the Swedish captain immediately following the match, I have tremendous respect for the Swedish team, and in describing the style of play, I used a choice of words that was both offensive and not at all what I had intended to convey,” she said.

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“We have amicably resolved the matter and are moving forward in a positive way,” she added.

U.S. Soccer did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Women’s Soccer Team Players Association declined to comment.

Solo anchored the team in goal for the 2015 Women’s World Cup victory, allowing just three goals in seven games with five shutouts during the tournament – earning her a second straight Golden Glove Award.

For her career, Solo has made 202 total appearances with the national team, with 153 wins and an international-record 102 shutouts.

The defending champion U.S. women were ousted from the Olympics last summer when Sweden advanced 4-3 on penalty kicks following a 1-1 draw.

Solo’s “cowards” quote came immediately following the loss. Sweden went on to play in the gold-medal match against Germany.

Solo told the AP in an interview late last year that she spoke to coach Jill Ellis and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati following the loss, and felt that the issue was put to rest. After she returned to the United States, she said she was blindsided by the announcement about her suspension.

She said she believes U.S. Soccer wanted her off negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. Solo has been an outspoken advocate for equal pay and was among the players who filed a complaint against the federation with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging wage discrimination.

“Let’s call it what is, which is a firing,” Solo told AP then. “It was a termination of my contract effective immediately with severance. That is a firing. It wasn’t a suspension, that’s what they told the media because it looked better. But I got fired. I got fired for what they say was using the word `cowards’ but in reality they got rid of an adversary in the fight for equal pay.”

U.S. Soccer said at the time that Solo was suspended following a culmination of actions, and separately her contract was also terminated with the team.