Real Madrid v. Dortmund: 5 Talking Points

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On Tuesday night Borussia Dortmund put on yet another classy performance against Real Madrid to ensure the German side its second appearance in the Champions League final. The 4-3 aggregate victory punched BVB’s ticket to Wembley for the May 25th final where they will likely face fellow countryman, Bayern Munich, who throttled Barcelona 4-0 in the first leg of last week’s semi-final.

Yesterday’s match provided a slew of talking points, and here are but a few.

Sergio Ramos Is A ________

Sergio Ramos continues to divide opinion. On one hand the Spanish international is one of the finest center-backs in all of world football. He is a great leader, one who organizes his back four and influences through acute positioning, vicious tackles and lung-busting runs forward. His speed, aerial prowess and courage make him a game-changer, one who can repeatedly thwart attacks and, as was evident with yesterday’s strike that brought Los Blancos within a single goal of progressing to the final, score big-time goals.

But perhaps Ramos’ greatest attribute is also his most controversial – his mean-streak. With every tackle the Seville-born player unleashes an insidious array of elbows, half-punches and headbutts that leaves opponents in a heap. Yesterday, he repeatedly landed such combinations on Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski. There’s little doubt it was payback for the Polish international’s sensational four goal performance in the first leg but nevertheless, Ramos’ display on Tuesday has to go down as one of the dirtier 90 minutes a player has put in without being sent off. Brilliant yet dirty, Ramos is one of those guys you either love or hate.

No Love On The Left

As in the first leg of this semi-final, Cristiano Ronaldo saw no love on the left side of the field. Early on Madrid tried to play the Portuguese’s feet but he was smothered by the Yellow and Black blanket of Marco Reus, Lukasz Piszczek and Sven Bender. The suffocation forced Madrid to change their approach and attempt to access Ronaldo through quick, aerial switches of play. Most of the crosses came to CR7 through the sweet left-foot of Angel Di Maria, although few met their target.

After 70 minutes of ineffectiveness Ronaldo was forced to change position and work in a more central role. Few would choose to tango with Nevan Subotic and Mats Hummels but it was Ronaldo’s only option. No stranger to praise for his offensive line of work, Reus’ indefatigability makes him a highly underrated defender. As for Piszczek and Bender, they are two of Dortmund’s less-heralded players who, after 180 minutes of frustrating the world’s second best player, deserve our undivided attention.

Holy Di Maria

Angel Di Maria is a terror on the pitch. He has all kinds of speed – he’s quick, shifty and fast – while his cat-like balance and ability to play with either foot allows him to beat players to the line and provide succulent crosses for teammates to devour. There’s little doubt that he provides some of the sweetest service in the game.

Unfortunately, yesterday was not a testament to his skillset. On at least six different occasions he decided to forgo linking up on the right side of the pitch in favor of cutting a 40 yard ball to Ronaldo, which rarely found its target. It was predictable, ineffective and left Di Maria looking like a player short on confidence when he should be anything but that.

37 Yards Of Hell

Real Madrid simply couldn’t cope with the stifling defense of Dortmund. So how did Jurgen Klopp’s men do it? They defend within a 37 yard area, from midfield to their 18 yard box.

By staying compact Dortmund allowed Madrid to tire itself out. Los Blancos were free to swing the ball from full-back to full-back but as soon as they looked to play into Dortmund’s half it was lights out. Subotic, Hummels, Piszczek and Marcel Schmelzer kept a high, U-shaped line, which allowed the four midfielders to provide quick, focused pressure in one of two spaces: either centrally on Xabi Alonso and Luka Modric or outside on Di Maria or Ronaldo.

Big Boys Eat Now

Sure, Dortmund conceeded twice in the final ten minutes of regulation but the circumstances weren’t exactly ideal for keeping a clean sheet. Up until that point, however, Subotic and Hummels were absolute beasts in the center of defense. The predominant transfer chatter may currently surround Robert Lewandowski but don’t be surprised when the big boys – ahem, Barcelona – come calling for these two studs.

Willian proves he’s Chelsea’s x-factor against Brighton

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There’s a considerable difference when watching a Chelsea team that plays with and without one of its Brazilian influences in the attacking part of the field.

Willian — who first debuted for the Blues back in 2013 — hasn’t always managed to be a regular starter for Chelsea, whether it was Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink or current manager Antonio Conte at the helm, though.

[ SOURCES: Jack Harrison expected to join Stoke City this winter ]

The 29-year-old plays with considerable flair, something that certainly isn’t uncommon amongst many players that have grown up in Brazil.

At times Willian’s overconfidence is a significant blessing, and at others it can be considered a curse, however, the former Corinthians player’s presence is something that Chelsea needs now more than ever.

That was on display on Saturday during the side’s 4-0 win at Brighton, a match in which Chelsea dominated from start to finish with Willian on the pitch. While the performance cannot solely be attributed to the attacking midfielder’s showing, it’s easy to argue that the Blues midfielder is becoming the club’s biggest x factor — one that can determine the outcome of a match.

Just look six minutes into the match, when the Blues put together one of the best team goals you’ll see in a match this year (or any year for that matter), which of course, was started and finished by none other than Willian.

What stands out about the play isn’t the brilliant slicing shot into the near post corner by the veteran playmaker, but instead the confidence that Willian exudes and brings to a Chelsea lineup that has plenty of talent to be considered one of the best teams in England and all of Europe.

After all, Conte’s group is just a season removed from winning the Premier League and still sits inside the top three in the world’s top league.

Then, there’s the Blues’ third goal against Brighton, which was set up by a smart, and instinctive, through ball played into the path of Eden Hazard by Willian (below).

Even though Hazard ends up with a ton of time on the ball to make his next decision, which was ultimately to cut inside on his preferred right foot, the run by Willian towards the end line dragged a defender away from the Belgian international — allowing the sequence to progress.

Arguing Willian’s importance isn’t a knock on Hazard — a world-class player in his own right — or Alvaro Morata, who has had the intolerable task of replacing a key player like Diego Costa.

Instead, it simply shows that Chelsea has a plethora of talent, and that some of the club’s attacking struggles throughout the 2017/18 season can be chalked up to Willian being left out of the starting XI on a regular basis.

[ MORE: Sergio Aguero continues to display brilliance for Man City ]

The Brazilian international has scored eight goals and added seven assists this season in all competitions for the Blues, despite only starting 19 matches.

The mind of manager Conte is an ever-changing one, so maybe Willian still doesn’t get the starting nod on an every week basis, but just by watching the team’s performance at the Amex Stadium it’s quite hard to argue against the player being on the field as much as possible.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Tottenham

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Southampton will host Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with both sides hoping to pick up three points for very different reasons.

The Saints are currently in the midst of a fierce relegation battle through 23 matches, and sit in 18th place in the Premier League, while Spurs are hoping challenge for a top-four position.

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Mauricio Pellegrino‘s Southampton could get defender Maya Yoshida back in time for Sunday’s match, however, the side will be without Charlie Austin once more, who is currently nursing a hamstring injury.

Meanwhile, a number of key figures will miss the match for Tottenham, including goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and Harry Winks. Also, Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld remain sidelined with injuries, although the latter is expected to be back soon.

What they’re saying

Mauricio Pellegrino on state of the Saints: “We are not happy with our position but in three or four weeks’ time everything can change. It’s part of our competition. I feel in our team the spirit is really good and everybody is conscious about what we need. I receive these messages from players every day, and we have to convert these feelings into stats.”

Mauricio Pochettino on potential January moves: “To be honest it will be difficult. At some point you always dream but not too much exciting [is happening]. If it happens, it happens. If not, then it doesn’t happen. We are happy with the squad.”

Prediction

Harry Kane is firing at an absurd rate recently, and Southampton’s current form is worrisome to say the least. With just four wins all season, it’s hard to imagine the Saints coming out in front in their clash. Southampton 0-3 Tottenham

La Liga: Las Palmas stuns nine-man Valencia, Atleti settles for draw

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Las Palmas 2-1 Valencia

It’s never ideal when you finish a match with nine men, and that was the case on the day for third-place Valencia. Things were going according to plan for the visitors early on at the Gran Canaria when Santi Mina scored five minutes into the match.

However, goals from Jonathan Viera (22nd minute) and Jonathan Calleri (53rd minute) brought Las Palmas in front, and they wouldn’t relinquish the advantage.

Gabriel Paulista‘s second yellow card, which set up Las Palmas’ penalty kick in the second half was the first sending off for Valencia, while Ruben Vezo joined his teammate in the locker room with three minutes remaining in regulation.

The victory moves Las Palmas into 19th place in La Liga.

Atletico Madrid 1-1 Girona

Barcelona’s lead at the top of La Liga will likely grow courtesy of Atletico’s inability to apply pressure on the Blaugrana. Antoine Griezmann’s first-half strike wasn’t enough to cushion the Atleti lead, and in turn, Girona equalized with 17 minutes left in regulation when Portu scored off of a great take out of the air.

Espanyol 0-3 Sevilla

Franco Vasquez got things started for the visiting side after just 15 minutes, and before halftime Sevilla managed to double their lead through Pablo Sarabia. For good measure, the sixth-place side added a third goal in the 90th minute as Luis Muriel finished off a pass from Sarabia.


Elsewhere in La Liga

Villareal 2-1 Levante


Sunday’s La Liga matches

Alaves vs. Leganes — 6 a.m. ET
Real Madrid vs. Deportivo La Coruna — 10:15 a.m. ET
Real Sociedad vs. Celta Vigo — 12:30 p.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Barcelona — 2:45 p.m. ET

Blockbuster trade sends Kamara to Galaxy, Zardes to Columbus

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The MLS offseason has been in full force for some time now, and the blockbuster moves continue to take shape.

On Saturday, the Columbus Crew finalized a deal with the LA Galaxy to send striker Ola Kamara to the Western Conference side.

[ MORE: All of the picks from Friday’s MLS SuperDraft first & second rounds ]

In exchange for Kamara, the Galaxy have sent U.S. Men’s National Team attacker Gyasi Zardes and $400,000 in Targeted Allocation Money to the Crew. The amount of TAM could increase to $500,000 if Kamara scores 12 or more goals in 2018.

Since arriving on the MLS scene in 2016, the Norwegian had scored 34 regular season goals for the Crew, while adding five assists.

Meanwhile, Zardes has spent his entire professional career with the Galaxy up until this point, after having signed a Homegrown contract with the club over five years ago.

The USMNT winger has scored 34 goals in 131 regular season appearances since making his senior team debut for the Galaxy.