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.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.

Report: Guardiola close to adding $43m Benfica goalkeeper

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Year Two of the Pep Guardiola era at Manchester City could feature another big goalkeeper purchase.

Claudio Bravo hasn’t panned out in sky blue, and Joe Hart doesn’t look likely to be coming back. Wily Caballero is getting the lion’s share of the minutes right now, playing every minute aside from a trio of FA Cup matches since February.

[ MORE: Podolski scores screamer in German finale ]

$43 million is the fee noted by Abola when it comes to the latest target for Guardiola, a neck-tattooed Brazilian by the name of Ederson.

The Benfica backstop, 23, has 20 clean sheets in 32 appearances this season. He signed a new six-year deal in late January, but money may talk here.