Britain Soccer Champions League Final

Bayern Munich – Borussia Dortmund: The tactics and the game’s shifting momentum

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How appropriate that in the end, Arjen Robben’s relentless running captured European glory in a relentless final, a breathtaking UEFA Champions League culmination full a chances on both sides.

The Dutchman’s 89th minute roller eluded Roman Weidenfeller to cap a delightfully entertaining match that had three goals – but seemed like it should have had twice as many. The goalkeepers stole the show in London by stealing goals (along with one other ball bound for Dortmund goal that was rescued spectacularly by center back Nevin Subotic).

Dortmund bravely started so forcefully, not a bit intimidated by the big brother from Germany, the runaway Bundesliga winner. The world needed about three minutes to see that Dortmund would not play the victim in this UEFA theater. The global audience was treated to an absolutely breathless display of attack, counter attack and high pressure around the field from Dortmund’s side.

Dortmund ran the show for about 30 minutes before Bayern played its way into contention, as Robben’s influence gradually grew.

Would anyone have blamed BVB manager Jurgen Klopp for slightly taming his young team’s desire for push, push, push?  But they didn’t, and all the chances went Dortmund’s way early. So much so that Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer seemed to have one hand on the Man of the Match medal early, doing his part to keep the Bundesliga champs in the match.

So many possessions went through the skilled, fast feet of Marco Reus, the attacking midfielder in the underdogs’ 4-2-3-1. He  outplayed the increasingly frustrated Bastian Schweinsteiger, Bayern’s midfield engine, by some margin over the game’s first half-hour.

Schweinsteiger retreated deeper and deeper to collect possession for Bayern, finally finding himself between the Bavarian club’s center backs, hardly where the German international wanted to be.

Meanwhile, Dortmund seemed destined to open the scoring. Neuer used his shin to turn away Blaszczykowski’s close-range shot in the 15th minute.  Rues blazed one from 20 yards with pace that Neuer pushed wide with authority. Soon after it was Sven Bender seeing his curler from 22 yards turned away, as even Dortmund’s holding midfielder was creeping closer to Bavarian goal.

Bayern was reduced to hopeful, long balls, mostly gobbled up by Dortmund center back Subotic and Mats Hummels.

Inevitably, Dortmund had to drop its intensity and pressure, dropping those lines of resistance back 20-25 yards; Even a young club like Klopp’s could not possibly sustain the highly placed pressure over 90 minutes.

And then Robben happened. The German champs gained confidence from a series of chances off  corner kicks, as German’s midfielders began to sense Robben’s mounting influence, funneling more balls the Dutchman’s way.

Robben got behind Dortmund’s defense three times before the break, once clean through only to be stuffed by the onrushing Weidenfeller, once too slow to throw a ball across goal from a rapidly decreasing angle on the right and once on a ball that bounced fortuitously in a desperate scramble with Hummels. On that one, it was Weidenfeller once again to the rescue, making himself big and taking one off the face as Robben got position on Dortmund’s center back.

More of the same after the break, as Bayern generally sustained pressure. Robben, Franck Ribery and Thomas Muller zipped in and out in liberal interchange behind striker Mario Mandžukić. The Dutchman seemed to find his way around the gamed better, and most of his damage came along the right side despite the valiant toil of Marcel Schmelzer, who was ablaze himself up and down Dortmund’s left side.

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That interchange was important, however, as Dortmund had some trouble locating the heralded trio of Bayern attackers. They also crept inside, adding further pressure on Dortmund’s defenders and midfielders. Finally, Lahm and David Alaba were making noise on the wings, so Muller, Ribery and Robben had room to operate inside.

Robben was stationed centrally at one big moment, slicing through to play a ball back into Mandžukić at the far post for the breakthrough.

Behind them, Bayern’s Jerome Boateng had seemed vulnerable due to a slight injury. Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski, so faithfully connected to Reus through the match, kept himself stationed nearby Boateng, hoping to exploit the matchup. But it was Bayern’s other central man who helped temporarily turn the match. Brazilian defender Dante was beaten inside the penalty area as he kicked Reus, and Ilkay Gundogan – taking the penalty because Neuer had saved one off Lewandowski recently – blasted the equalizer.

But Robben happened again. And again.

Wiedenfeller saved wonderfully on a blast from David Alaba and later the Dortmund goalie’s work was just as good on an absolute blazer from Schweinsteiger.

Lahm, pinned in by so much Dortmund pressure in the first half, was getting into the attack, combining with Robben and Müller.

Bayern’s winner seemed inevitable as Ribery and Robben poured themselves toward Dortmund goal. Even the terrifically heroic Weidenfeller could not stop Robben’s game-winner.

AT THE HALF: Man City 1-2 Monaco; Atleti lead in UCL round of 16

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Radamel Falcao Garcia of AS Monaco celebrates as he scores their first and equalising goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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We’re only halfway through the first leg of Manchester City versus Monaco, and Bayer Leverkusen versus Atletico Madrid, in the UEFA Champions League round of 16, but the goals are coming fast and furious from England to Germany.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

Man City found themselves 1-0 up at the Etihad Stadium, when Leroy Sane turned on video-game mode to set up Raheem Sterling for the opening goal in the 28th minute. But, as City have so typically done in the Champions League, they began self-destructing four minutes later. Radamel Falcao‘s diving header brought Monaco level in the 32nd minute, and Kylian Mbappe’s finish over the head of Willy Caballero put the visitors 2-1 up eight minutes later.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

As for Tuesday’s other round-of-16 tie, Saul Niguez simultaneously opened the scoring and snatched the soul of every Bayer defender who dared to contest him. Antoine Griezmann added a second for Atleti, who hold their 2-0 lead at halftime, seven minutes later.

LIVE: UCL last 16 – Man City v Monaco; Bayer v Atletico Madrid

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 06:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his sides fourth goal during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between West Ham United and Manchester City at London Stadium on January 6, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clashes get underway on Tuesday.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Manchester City host AS Monaco at the Etihad Stadium with Pep Guardiola knowing his shaky defense must stay strong against the leading scorers in France’s top-flight. Monaco have already come to England and beaten Tottenham Hotspur in the UCL group stage and under talented manager Leanardo Jardim the likes of Radamel Falcao looks fired up and ready to go.

That said, City have been much better in recent weeks and have shown their best form this season in the UCL. Remember, Pep has never failed to reach the semifinals of this competition as a manager. Quite the record.

Elsewhere Bayer Leverkusen welcome Atletico Madrid to the BayArena with Mexico’s Javier Hernandez back among the goals and aiming to give the Bundesliga outfit a lead to take with them to Madrid.

The runners up late season, Atleti are currently fourth in La Liga but Diego Simeone’s side have looked stellar in Europe this season once again as they finished above Bayern Munich to win their group. Expect a tense, tough game in Germany.

Click on the link above to follow live commentary on both games, while we will have reaction and analysis on all of the UCL knockout games here at Pro Soccer Talk.


Tuesday’s UCL Round of 16, first legs

Manchester City vs. AS Monaco – 2:45 p.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Atletico Madrid – 2:45 p.m. ET

Bayern defends Ancelotti for middle-finger gesture to fans

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich has defended coach Carlo Ancelotti for raising his middle finger to Hertha Berlin fans after supposedly being spit at following a dramatic 1-1 draw in the Bundesliga.

[ MORE: Shaw in betting investigation ]

Bayern says “basically we find the human reaction of Carlo Ancelotti with the gesture to be emotionally understandable after the nasty spitting attack.”

Robert Lewandowski’s injury-time equalizer for Bayern on Saturday prompted altercations between Bayern and Hertha players in a heated atmosphere at the Olympic Stadium.

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The German soccer federation ended its investigation into the matter after Ancelotti agreed to pay 5,000 euros ($5,300) to its foundation for social work.

In 2014, Norbert Duewel, then-coach of second-division club Union Berlin, was fined 3,500 euros for raising his middle finger in a 4-1 loss at home against 1860 Munich.

Sacha Kljestan ready to take reigns as Red Bulls captain

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 6:  Sacha Kljestan #16 of New York Red Bulls dribbles past Steven Beitashour #33 of Toronto FC  during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 6, 2016 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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When news began to spread of a trade regarding one of Major League Soccer’s most recognizable faces, Sacha Kljestan was with his New York Red Bulls teammate at the U.S. Men’s National Team’s January camp.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The clarity over Dax McCarty’s move to Eastern Conference foe Chicago Fire is very much uncertain — even a month after the fact — but the veteran midfielder’s absence left an opening for the Red Bulls captaincy.

[ MORE: PST talks with Atlanta president Darren Eales ahead of 2017 ]

And that was an opportunity that Kljestan was honored to be named.

“I was just proud. My first feeling was that I’m thankful for Jesse [Marsch] having that trust in me and my teammates having that trust in me as well, which is very important,” Kljestan said. “But I just feel very proud to represent Jesse and the coaching staff and represent every member of the club that works with the New York Red Bulls. Most importantly I want to represent the fans in a way that they are proud of.”

Fortunately for the Red Bulls, what they have had over the past two seasons in Kljestan is a player that not only provides flash and brilliance on the pitch but also stability off the field and in the locker room.

Since making his return to MLS in 2015, Kljestan has notched an astounding 34 assists — the most of any player during that span — to go along with his 14 goals.

Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch has been impressed with Kljestan’s work ethic since bringing in the Designated Player, and he says little thought needed to be put into naming the U.S. international his squad’s next captain.

“It almost wasn’t even a choice at all,” Marsch said in regards to naming Kljestan his primary captain. “He had served as basically a vice-captain for two years and it was an natural fit. There were discussions with the staff but I think it was pretty clear that this is a guy that is a top leader. That being said, we’ve said all along that the captain isn’t a one man job.

“It’s about a community of people and certainly the two guys that will support Sacha the most will be Luis [Robles] and Brad [Wright-Phillips]. I think the three of them will take on big leadership roles and there’s room for young guys to blossom into bigger leadership positions as well.”

The Red Bulls have undoubtedly proven their success in the regular season since rebranding to the aforementioned name in 2006 when the Global giant, Red Bull, acquired the franchise.

The last 11 seasons have provided the club with plenty to cheer about, including two Supporters’ Shield crowns and only missing out on the postseason once, but the Red Bulls have struggled to get past one major hurdle.

Winning an MLS Cup is challenging.

It’s only something that 11 teams have accomplished in the league’s history. Of those 11 teams, only five of them have won two or more titles since MLS’ inception in 1996.

Marsch’s approach since day one has been very clear to both his team and the opponents that the Red Bulls face. The goal has been to play an attacking-minded press, similar to that of Barcelona in the club’s hay day.

While that pressing style likely won’t change, the team is prepared to add another dimension to its attack by switching to a two-forward setup starting in 2017.

“With our little tweak in formation that we’re doing now, we’re trying to be less susceptible to opening ourselves up and creating too much space between our lines,” Kljestan said. “We’re working on ways now to become more connected and become harder to break down and really make teams earn their chances against us. We might go through some growing pains with the formation but I think it’ll make us stronger in the long run.”

The Red Bulls begin their 2017 journey on Wednesday when they face the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. The two sides will meet a second time on March 2 in Vancouver.