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

3 Comments

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.

PL title & FA Cup in sight, Conte says Chelsea still rebuilding

Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Antonio Conte might be just seven games away from guiding Chelsea to a Premier League and FA Cup double this season, but the Blues’ first-year Italian manager insists his squad is nowhere near being a finished product.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Speaking after Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal triumph over Tottenham Hotspur, Conte insisted that the team he inherited last summer, after a disastrous 10th-place finish in the PL, is “in a period of transition” and that “[they] need time” as the club moves on from an accomplished, foundational generation — quotes from Sky Sports:

“I think that now at Chelsea we are in a period of transition. In this season, we have lost (Branislav) Ivanovic, (John Obi) Mikel and next season we lose John Terry.

“We are talking about players who wrote the history of this club. They won a lot. Now we have to find the right substitutes for these players and then work to put these players at the same level.

“I think that in the period with Carlo (Ancelotti) — and Carlo is the best Italian coach, I have great respect for him — he arrived at Chelsea when they had a really strong squad. Now we are building. We are building something important. We need time.”

[ MORE: Kante takes home PFA Player of the Year | Dele wins Young Player ]

Conte is doing two things with the above comments: 1) he’s tempering expectations for next season, when Chelsea will be back in the UEFA Champions League and automatically expected to repeat as PL champions — not to mention, taking a bit of pressure off in these final two months of the 2016-17 season; and, 2) pointing out just how impressive his work to date has been, the fact he’s potentially seven games away from lifting two trophies in seven days’ time next month.

Ligue 1: Mbappe, Falcao fire Monaco top again

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) Strikers Radamel Falcao and Kylian Mbappe continued their fine form with a goal each to help Monaco secure a 2-1 win at Lyon and reclaim top spot in the French league on Sunday.

Monaco moves above defending champion Paris Saint-Germain on goal difference, with Monaco having played a game less. PSG has four games left.

“It wasn’t easy and it was a big win for us tonight,” Monaco center half Andrea Raggi said. “We all play for each other and it’s now or never.”

It has been an astonishing season for Monaco, which has now scored 143 goals in all competitions and remains on course for the treble. Monaco faces PSG in the French Cup semifinals next Wednesday.

Falcao and Mbappe scored in midweek when Monaco beat German side Borussia Dortmund 3-1 in the return leg of their Champions League quarterfinal to reach the last four 6-3 on aggregate.

Lyon also did well in Europe, going through on penalty kicks away to Turkish club Besiktas to reach the last four in the Europa League.

Falcao and the 18-year-old Mbappe have combined for 51 goals.

Falcao put Monaco ahead in the 36th minute with a header from close range – his 28th goal of the season – and Mbappe made it 2-0 just before halftime with a trademark surging run and cool finish for his 23rd.

“I just try and give my best whenever I play,” said Mbappe, who has recently been called into the France team. “I wasn’t playing much at the start of the season, so I’m still quite fresh and I hope I can help us win the remaining games.”

PSG beat Montpellier 2-0 at home on Saturday with Edinson Cavani scoring his 31st league goal of the season and 44th overall.

Nice has already guaranteed third place and a spot in the qualifying round for next season’s Champions League.

But with four games remaining, it is six points behind Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain. Nice hosts PSG next Sunday.

Striker Corentin Jean gave mid-table Toulouse the lead in the 57th minute. Midfielder Valentin Eysseric continued his fine form with the equalizer three minutes later.

The game was briefly halted early in the first half after a group of Saint-Etienne supporters forced themselves into the stadium.

The match was supposed to be played behind closed doors as a punishment for unruly supporters during Saint-Etienne’s local derby against Lyon.

After a brief delay for police to remove the fans, Slovakia striker Robert Beric put the home side ahead in the 39th and center half Edson Mexer leveled just before the break.

Saint-Etienne is in seventh place, while Rennes is ninth.

Serie A: Napoli waste chance to go 2nd; Juve win big (again)

Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MILAN (AP) Arkadiusz Milik scored his first goal since his lengthy injury layoff but it wasn’t enough to prevent Napoli from drawing 2-2 at Sassuolo on Sunday and missing the chance to move second in Serie A.

Milik scored two minutes after coming off the bench to rescue a point for Napoli and move it to within one point of second-placed Roma, which visits bottom club Pescara on Monday.

Second spot in Serie A secures automatic entry into the Champions League group stage, while the team that finishes third has to go through a playoff.

“The road to second spot has got more difficult, we have to hope our rivals slip up,” Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri said. “We have a point more than last season, even though we played in the Champions League, even though we lost (Gonzalo) Higuain at the beginning of the season and Milik for four months, so I think the team has had an extraordinary season until now.”

After an even first half, Napoli broke the deadlock seven minutes after the break thanks to a rare header from Dries Mertens. It was the diminutive Belgian’s 22nd league goal of the season – as many as he had scored in total in his three previous seasons at Napoli.

However, Napoli gifted Sassuolo the equalizer seven minutes later as Marek Hamsik’s terrible headed backpass to Pepe Reina was intercepted by Domenico Berardi, who fired home from close range.

Mertens almost immediately restored his side’s lead but saw his free kick come off the crossbar, while Lorenzo Insigne’s effort also hit the inside of the post for Napoli.

Sassuolo took the lead 10 minutes from time following a superb save from Reina to deny former Napoli hero Paolo Cannavaro, but Antonino Ragusa hooked the ball back in from the byline for Luca Mazzitelli to drive into the bottom right corner.

Milik was brought on in the 82nd and immediately leveled. Jose Callejon’s corner was knocked down by Raul Albiol and the Poland international spun to fire in from close range for his first goal since he was injured on World Cup duty in October.

AC Milan missed a penalty as the new era at the famous Italian club continued without a win.

Milan drew 2-2 at city rival Inter Milan last weekend in the first match since the $800 million takeover of Milan by Chinese-led Rossoneri Sport Luxembourg ended Silvio Berlusconi’s 31-year reign.

Sunday’s defeat saw Milan remain in the last qualifying spot for the Europa League, two points above Inter.

“If we relate everything to the result, it didn’t go well but I shouldn’t do that,” Milan coach Vincenzo Montella said. “We created 15 chances, it’s difficult to create more in Serie A.”

Empoli took a surprise lead five minutes from halftime when Levan Mchedlidze headed in a corner.

Milan should have leveled shortly before the hour, after Lukasz Skorupski pushed over Mario Pasalic, but the Empoli goalkeeper made up for his error by keeping out Suso’s penalty and then parrying a follow-up effort from Gianluca Lapadula.

Empoli doubled its lead in the 67th when Massimo Maccarone nodded on the ball for Mame Thiam to score his first goal in Italian football.

Lapadula reduced the deficit five minutes later, curling into the bottom corner and Milan had a good chance to level when it was awarded an indirect free kick six yards out from goal after Skorupski got the ball, put it down and picked it back up again.

However, with all the Empoli players on the line, Milan couldn’t equalize.

Milan’s teenage goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma kept his side in the match with a fantastic one-handed save to deny Maccarone and it almost proved decisive as Lucas Ocampos volleyed off the crossbar at the other end.

Keita Balde Diao notched a five-minute hat trick as Lazio crushed Palermo to move back into fourth in Serie A.

Ciro Immobile scored two in as many minutes to put Lazio 2-0 up inside 10 minutes, before Keita’s quickfire treble – including a penalty – ensured the match was all but over with less than half an hour played.

Lazio relaxed and Palermo threatened an unexpected comeback with two goals from Andrea Rispoli in five minutes at the start of the second half.

But Luca Crecco extended Lazio’s lead in the final minute with his first ever senior goal.

Juventus continued its march to an unprecedented sixth successive Serie A title by routing Genoa 4-0 to move 11 points clear of Roma.

Ezequiel Munoz scored an own-goal in the 17th and magnificent strikes from Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic put the hosts 3-0 up at the break. Leonardo Bonucci scored another stunning goal in the 64th after sprinting forward from inside his own half. Juventus also hit the woodwork three times.

Crotone kept its faint hopes of survival alive with a surprise 2-1 win at Sampdoria.

The result left it five points behind 17th-placed Empoli and safety with five matches remaining.

Elsewhere, Torino won 3-1 at Chievo Verona, while Udinese beat Cagliari 2-1.

MLS Snapshot: Sounders cruise, 3-0, as Galaxy struggles continue

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy’s midfield remains… nonexistent, to put it very nicely. It was a problem in 2015; it was a major problem in 2016; and it remains a problem early in 2017. On Sunday, Curt Onalfo’s side (as a quick aside, no, his seat isn’t yet getting hot) sat by and watched — almost literally — as the Seattle Sounders found the back of the net three times in the first half at StubHub Center.

Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris scored the goals for Seattle, to go with an own goal from Ashley Cole. It’s LA’s fifth loss in seven games, while Seattle have their second win of the season and put to bed a three-game winless skid.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundup — FCD win battle of unbeatens ]

Three moments that mattered

29′ — Dempsey heads into an open net for 1-0 — Nicolas Lodeiro floated the cross toward the back post, and Dempsey made extremely easy work of it with Brian Rowe scrambling through no man’s land.

35′ — Cole applies the finish into his own net — If it happened at the other end of the field, we’d have said it was a cool, calm, composed finish. Alas…

44′ — Morris fires past Rowe for 3-0 — The counter-attack was quick, what with no one stepping to the ball as Seattle covered two-thirds of the field. The finish wasn’t so simple for Morris.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Clint Dempsey

Goalscorers: Dempsey (29′), Cole (OG – 35′), Morris (44′)