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.

Sydney FC clinches first place in A-League

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SYDNEY (AP) After clinching first place in Australia’s A-League without taking the field, Sydney FC enhanced its record achievement with a 3-0 win over the Perth Glory on Sunday.

Sydney FC won the Premiers Plate as regular-season champions after the second-place Melbourne Victory lost 1-0 to Brisbane on Saturday, when Sydney had a night off.

The Brisbane win left Sydney with an unassailable 11-point lead in first place with three rounds to play.

[ MORE: An under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

The Sydney side also created some history: it became the only team to have remained in outright first position in the standings for an entire season.

In the other match Sunday, the Wellington Phoenix beat Newcastle 5-0 to remain within five points of sixth-place Western Sydney for the final playoff spot.

Walking Dead? Star fittingly sees Exeter’s implausible comeback (video)

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As Rick Grimes, actor Andrew Lincoln regularly battles the undead on his show “The Walking Dead”.

As a friend of Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale, Lincoln was probably pretty happy to watch a team that would not die.

Exeter went down 3-0 when Yeovil Town broke a scoreless drought with a trio of tallies between the 62nd and 78th minutes.

[ MORE: An under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

But Exeter’s David Wheeler scored in the 88th minute, and Troy Brown and Reuben Reid scored a minute apart at the beginning of stoppage time to earn a point for the League Two playoff hopeful.

Couple things on this video, too:

— Check out the shove on the goalkeeper when trying to collect the ball after the first goal of the fight back.

— Watch the man with his baby behind the net after the third goal. Did Mom know how safe her little one was?

An under-the-radar Premier League XI

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The Premier League’s international break invites reflection on both what we’ve seen so far and what’s to come.

For example, what if we left out the superstars?

For whatever reason, this one is recalling the state of mind of 2015-16, when we were digesting that Leicester City very much looked the part of Premier League champions.

[ MORE: Herrera on “intense” Zlatan ]

For a lot of us, that meant delving into statistics and seeing what matched the eye test. Many started Googling the name “N'Golo Kante“, the dynamic disruptor who’d move to Chelsea in August.

He’s a household name now, with some personalities even arguing that he should buck the trend of Ballon d’Or nominees including only major statistic producers (There was a time when names like Fabio Cannavaro and Matthias Sammer claimed the honor, you know).

For our purposes, we’ll use a pair of advanced stats sites and the good ol’ eye test. (Of the sites we’re using, Squawka seems to skew toward high attack scores, while WhoScored tilts a bit toward the back, so life is good if a player hits both sites’ Top 50).

Before getting into our team — we promise no 10-picture, click-to-reveal-next stuff — some stats that stood out.

— Three players have had outstanding “short” seasons for different reasons.

  • Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi took a short spell to adjust to the Premier League after arriving in January, but has been the Foxes’ most influential player in their recent turnaround).
  • Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake essentially was the Cherries’ first-half success before heading back to Chelsea where Antonio Conte won’t move him ahead of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses (and that’s actually understandable as you’ll see below).
  • Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas just doesn’t feature a ton for Conte, but in limited time his per-90 stats on Squawka trail only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.

— The following players have risen well above most of their teammates but fall short of the league Top 50 on either site: Ben Gibson (Boro), Michael Keane and Ben Mee (Burnley), Christian Fuchs (Leicester City), Joe Allen (Stoke City), Jose Holebas and Troy Deeney (Watford), Gareth McAuley (West Brom).

— Watford, as a side, is seemingly the choose to a sort of MVP. On WhoScored, not a single player rises above 7, but there are a host in the very high sixes.

— In very different systems, John Stones (91.8) and Adam Forshaw (89.2) are thriving in pass percentage.

Oriol Romeu of Southampton and Victor Wanyama of Tottenham Hotspur (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

— Southampton’s Oriel Romeu and Stoke’s Erik Pieters rank fourth and fifth respectively in tackles per game.

— In a team that has to intervene a ton, Hull City’s Curtis Davies the league with 3.8 interceptions per game.


Honorable mention

Goalkeeper: Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City)

Defenders: Aleksandar Kolarov (Manchester City), Marcos Alonso (Chelsea), Calum Chambers (Boro), Papy Djilobodji (Sunderland), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

Midfielders: Ake, Victor Wanyama (Spurs), Willian (Chelsea), Juan Mata (Manchester United), Harry Winks (Spurs), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham United), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Jack Wilshere (Bournemouth).

Forwards: Joshua King (Bournemouth), Fernando Llorente (Swansea City), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace)


Goalkeeper

Ben Foster (West Brom) — With the highest performance score in the position on WhoScored, Foster has claimed all 95 balls he’s went up for and has a league-best 76 saves.

Defenders

Nicolas Otamendi (Man City, 7.49, 29.18) — One of few defenders to rate high in interceptions despite being on a team that doesn’t concede loads of chances or possession.

George Friend (Middlesbrough) — Just out of the upper echelon on the advanced stats site, he is in rarefield air in traditional stats interceptions and tackles.

Steve Cook (Bournemouth, 7.16, 22.76) — Jumps out of the advanced stats on a Cherries team which has faced plenty of attacking pressure.

Antonio Valencia (Manchester United, 7.28, 27.45) — There’s a reason Jose Mourinho rewarded him with an extension not long into the manager’s tenure at Old Trafford.

Midfielders

Ander Herrera (Manchester United, 7.44, 36.64) – Long-heralded at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera is finally showing what made him so sought. One odd stat that may be explained by his willingness to run to any situation: he’s very high in average times dribbled past.

Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, 7.34, 20.57) – The best player in Aston Villa’s awful 2015-16, he’s been arguably as effective as N’Golo Kante. Seriously.

Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) – Once the top player on a relegated QPR, Phillips is fifth in the Premier League in assists despite missing the last four matches with injury.

Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur, 7.41, 31.89) – Second in the PL in key passes, he doesn’t get the plaudits of English teammates Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The relationships are very symbiotic.

 

Forwards

Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, 7.44) – On an under-achieving team, Zaha’s statistics are wild. He’s the most-fouled player in the league, and attempts/completes the most dribbles in the PL. He gives the ball away a lot, too, but that happens when you’re the focal point of everything your team does in the attacking third.

Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, 30.54) – The Nigerian turns 21 in May, and has four goals and seven assists across all competitions.

Herrera: Ibrahimovic competitive drive insatiable in everything

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Ander Herrera is dishing the goods on his Manchester United teammates while on Spain duty this week, and was asked about Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Swede is a fierce competitor on and off the pitch, which Herrera jokes is an ever-present challenge to personal patience.

[ MORE: Deulofeu laments early Messi talk ]

It almost seems like there’s a bit of envy that Ibrahimovic can charge into public comments the way Herrera goes into tackles.

From Marca:

“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.

“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”

There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).

We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.