A bold plan was beautiful for Bayern Munich against Barca

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Bayern Munich, the runway champions of Germany, certainly had every reason to carry truckloads of military grade confidence into Spain.

Even so, the boldness by which Jupp Heynckes’ bunch attacked their task Wednesday, by attacking the suddenly shrunken Catalan giants without so much as a Spanish sardine tin full of awe, was still quite impressive.

From the opening kick in the Nou Camp night, Bayern pressed high, and effectively so. Barcelona’s heroes weren’t afforded a moment on the ball anywhere around the massive ground, not even near their own penalty area. It was unafraid and professional, serving to eventually finish off Barca with a warrior’s scream.

Borussia Dortmund, a bountiful bundle of youthful TNT, is certainly a deserving fellow Champions League finalist. But the younger and lesser accomplished of our Champions League finishers killed off Real Madrid yesterday on the back foot, with a far-less-impressive sigh of relief.

By being the aggressors early Wednesday, Bayern Munich prevented Barca from leaning into the attack the way a four-goal deficit demanded.

Bayern’s audacious approach was all such a wonderful contrast to the way Chelsea eliminated Barcelona last year, situated in a far less appealing defensive crouch. That was the same way AC Milan gave Barca so much trouble two Champions League rounds back, before Leo Messi dashed to the Nou Camp rescue.

We cannot argue the effectiveness of the “Barca rules” gambit; Chelsea prevailed in 2012, after all, and Milan very nearly made it work six weeks ago. But I always wince when high-dollar, highly talented clubs elect to go the meek, defensively dug-in route. It just doesn’t feel right.

It certainly did not seem right Wednesday for the Bundesliga swells, who refused to allow Andres Iniesta and Xavi to find those familiar hypnotic rhythms.

The visitors’ fearless tactics didn’t just serve to keep the Catalan’s out of that signature tiki-taka – Barca never even got to the “tiki,” much less the “tiki-taka” – the Bavarians even created the better early chances. Arjen Robben charged in behind Barca’s high line and nearly ended matters (effectively so, at least) in the 12th minute.

That was on a pass from Bastian Schweinsteiger. It was Schweinsteiger playing creator once again a few minutes later, electing not to shoot from a declining angle but leaving a ball for the rampaging, trailing Philipp Lahm.

Clearly, Bayern could be braver in its approach with the peerless Messi stuck Barca’s bench. But it’s hard to see Heynckes altering his tactics either way. Indeed, Heynckes may have been as surprised as anyone to see Messi unnamed to the Catalans’ starting 11.

Barca eventually dragged the visitors a little closer to their own goal, but they escaped the first 45 unscathed, and if a 4-0 deficit looked daunting over 90 minutes, then heading into the breach with just 45 minutes to close the gap surely looked impossible.

If it wasn’t then, it was five minutes after intermission.

Bayern Munich executed superbly over two legs – but just as impressive was the way they boldly leaned into the effort, undaunted in pressing a club that once looked unable to be pressed.

Brighton 2-2 Stoke: Seagulls remain ninth thanks to Izquierdo’s equalizer

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Three Premier League newcomers remain in close contention with one another after 12 weeks, one of which picked up another positive result today.

[ MORE: Congested PL schedule challenges the big boys ]

Brighton & Hove Albion earned a 2-2 draw against Stoke City at the Amex Stadium on Monday after Jose Izquierdo’s persistence gave the home side the leveler in the 60th minute from Glenn Murray‘s clever pass inside the box.

The result made for Brighton’s sixth consecutive match unbeaten at home this season.

A back-and-forth first half saw the on-loan Chelsea defender give Stoke the lead heading into the halftime break after a disappointing spell of defending by Brighton allowed Zouma to finish of a corner kick.

Pascal Gross gave Brighton an equalizer one minute from halftime after Davy Propper had done superbly to create space for himself down the right wing.

The visitors struck in the 28th minute after Shaqiri delivered a perfect long ball into the path of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.

The Cameroonian proceeded to control the pass beautifully from his Stoke teammate, before tucking his shot from close range into the near corner past Brighton goalkeeper Maty Ryan.

Brighton thought they had the chance to level the score prior to the equalizer when the hosts appeared to have a penalty appeal after Murray went down inside the Stoke area. However, referee Lee Mason opted against spot kick.

The two sides will both be in action on Saturday when Brighton travels to Old Trafford to face Manchester United and Stoke takes on Crystal Palace.

At the half: Zouma’s header has Stoke in front against Brighton

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It’s been a wild one thus far at the Amex Stadium, and we’ve still got 45 minutes left to play.

Stoke City holds a 2-1 advantage against newcomer Brighton & Hove Albion after Kurt Zouma gave the visitors the lead on the stroke of halftime.

[ MORE: West Brom fires manager Tony Pulis ]

Zouma headed home close range in first-half stoppage time to restore the Potters’ advantage, after Pascal Gross had equalized in the 44th minute for Brighton.

Stoke opened the scoring just prior to the half hour mark when Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting finished off a stellar move that originated from a Xherdan Shaqiri long ball over the Brighton back line.

Brighton were fortunate not to be reduced to 10 men after Glenn Murray went in late on a challenge against Stoke defender Kevin Wimmer.

Murray thought he had won himself a penalty kick minutes prior, but referee Lee Mason decided to continue play.

Miguel Almiron named MLS Newcomer of the Year

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Unsurprisingly, one of Atlanta United’s biggest stars took home some hardware on Monday after a stellar first season in Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: Previewing the MLS conference finals ]

Atlanta attacker Miguel Almiron was named MLS Newcomer of the Year today, beating out Chicago Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic and teammate Josef Martinez for the honor.

Almiron, who joined Atlanta from Argentine side Lanus, netted nine goals and added 14 assists for the Eastern Conference squad in 2017 and helped guide the club to the MLS Cup Playoffs after finishing fifth in the East.

The 23-year-old received an 37.38% average of the vote for the award, which was compiled based on votes from a combination of media members, MLS players and executives. Nikolic finished second with 24.92 percent, while Martinez checked in at number three.

Watch Live: Brighton and Hove Albion vs. Stoke City

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Chris Hughton looks to lead his Brighton and Hove Albion to a fifth-straight result as the Gulls welcome Stoke City to the Amex Stadium on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The Gulls have won two and drawn two, powered by goals from Glenn Murray and the playmaking of Pascal Gross.

Stoke’s 3-4-1-2 has Ramadan Sobhi, Eric Choupo-Moting, and Xherdan Shaqiri attacking the final third.

LINEUPS

Brighton and Hove Albion: Ryan, Bruno, Dunk, Duffy, Bong, Stephens, Propper, Knockaert, Izquierdo, Gross, Murray. Subs: Krul, Hemed, Goldson, Schelotto, Suttner, Brown.

Stoke City: Grant; Zouma, Shawcross, Wimmer; Diouf, Fletcher, Allen, Pieters; Shaqiri, Ramadan; Choupo-Moting. Subs: Haugaard; Berahino, Jese, Afellay, Martins Indi, Adam, Crouch.