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

3 Comments

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.

source:

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.

Totti out to ‘destroy’ Lazio in what could be his last derby

Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MILAN (AP) Roma great Francesco Totti is out to “destroy” Lazio in what could be his last derby.

Totti’s contract runs out at the end of the season and the 40-year-old forward is likely to retire and move upstairs into a director’s role at the club where he has spent his entire career.

“It’s a different match to all the others,” Totti said. “It’s a team you always try to destroy on the field but with the maximum respect.

“For the city, for the curva, for the fans, you always try to give 101 percent. It’s a match you always want to win.”

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

Roma won the last derby 3-2 last month but still lost to Lazio in the two-legged Italian Cup semifinals. Totti played less than 10 minutes in each match.

That semifinal defeat still hurts Roma and its fans, which are likely to fill the Stadio Olimpico again after ending a 14-month protest following the removal of deeply unpopular security barriers.

“It will be like all the other derbies, a must-win match,” Totti said. “It’s important because we all remember how the last one finished. We have to get our revenge.”

Sunday’s match is also crucial for the battle for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the group stage of the Champions League.

Roma is currently second, four points ahead of Napoli, which visits Inter Milan on Sunday. The team which finishes third has to go into a playoff for Europe’s premier club competition.

Roma has a more difficult run-in than Napoli. After the derby, it next faces AC Milan and Juventus before ending its season against Chievo Verona and Genoa. Napoli plays Cagliari, Torino, Fiorentina and Sampdoria.

[ MORE: Henry, Aguero on playing for Pep ]

“It will be a very important derby for the standings and we will try everything to have a great game to bring home the three points,” Totti said. “We are going through this battle for second serenely and calmly, also because now we have a four-point advantage on them.

“There are only a few matches left until the end of the season, even if three out of five are very difficult on paper. We will try everything to finish second.”

Lazio is fourth, seven points behind Napoli.

Totti has been playing for Roma for 25 years – remarkably more than 28 percent of the club’s existence – since making his debut in the final stages of a 2-0 win at Brescia on March 28, 1993.

Totti, who also won the World Cup with Italy in 2006, could have won more than the solitary Serie A title, two Italian Cups and two national Super Cups he claimed with Roma, but he rejected offers of more money and glory to remain with his childhood club.

His face adorns murals and posters across Italy’s capital, where he is loved by Roma fans and respected by supporters of Lazio, despite his antics against them.

Totti has scored 11 times against Lazio and often celebrates these extra-special goals with T-shirts made for the occasion. One famously said, “I have purged you again,” while he revealed another reading simply “Game Over” after a victory in May 2015.

He hit the headlines in January of that year when he scored the second of two goals against Lazio and, in a pre-planned celebration for becoming the all-time leading scorer in the derby, grabbed his phone off Roma’s goalkeeping coach and took a selfie under the Curva Sud with thousands of adoring fans in the background.

In the Eternal City, Totti is Roma’s eternal leader – first made captain in 1998 when he was only 22.

Nike alluded to his “King of Rome” nickname at a promotional event on Wednesday to unveil new gold-colored boots to mark the Roma captain’s 25 years at the club.

Totti, who was greeted by about 200 chanting fans, was instructed to sit on a throne with the steps leading up to it bearing the names of the seven kings of ancient Rome, with his name placed on the final step.

“I have nothing to do with these kings,” Totti said. “I prefer to be judged than to judge.”

Bayern Munich activates clause to make Coman permanent

AP Photo/Martin Meissner
Leave a comment

Bayern Munich has announced its decision to make Kingsley Coman’s loan from Juventus a permanent move.

Coman, 20, operates as a right wing and striker, and can also play on the left. He’s made 40 Bundesliga appearances with six goals and six assists over two seasons for Bayern.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

It’s a $24 million option, and will bind Coman to Bayern through the 2019-20 season.

From FCBayern.com:

“Kingsley Coman is a crucial player for the future of our team, so we’ve decided to exercise the option,” commented Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge: “Kingsley is a promising player with great potential. We’re convinced he’ll help us in the coming years.”

Coman, Renato Sanches, and Joshua Kimmich are all under the age of 22.

Mourinho has chance to make major statement in Manchester Derby

Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The betting market says Man City is more than even money to beat Manchester United, and wagering on the latter to win Thursday’s derby match is a longer shot than the Red Devils finishing in the Top Four (an achievement to be sure).

The worth of those metrics is debatable, but allows a sincere thought: Given their thin depth and the road challenge, a win for Jose Mourinho would be as impressive as almost anything Manchester United has accomplished this season.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

Maybe that’s obvious to many of us, but a twirl through the spheres of United supporter social media shows something different. Many Red Devils are confident of their teams’ fortunes in Thursday’s Manchester Derby, with one even predicting a 3-1 win in a comment on the NBC Sports Soccer Facebook page.

That could be an outlier, sure, but shows the demands Manchester United supporters place on their big spending club. United won’t have Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, two of the best players in the world, and it’s not as if the club has had time to adjust to their absences. No one has played more minutes for United than Pogba and Ibrahimovic this season.

United is also without Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, and Phil Jones at the heart of their defense as it attempts to shut down Sergio Aguero and/or Gabriel JesusDavid Silva is a doubt for City, who also may not have John Stones, but Guardiola has options.

How Mourinho attacks — or doesn’t attack — City, and how Guardiola sets up his XI, will be interesting leading into the match, because parking the bus lacks its usual luster given the center back carnage. Will Mourinho trot out Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera in a bid to clog the midfield? Will he run Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford as a strike pair?

The answers to these questions and the unlikely event of a United road win may end up shining all over Thursday. And while that win would wind up being overshadowed by United’s finish on the Premier League table and UEFA Europa League, there’s little doubt it would stake a serious claim for Mourinho’s time at United being on the rise.

Henry, Aguero discuss playing up top under Pep

Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images
Leave a comment

One great striker got another one to open up on an up-and-down year at Manchester City.

Thierry Henry — one of the greatest of all-time, it must be said — sat down with Sergio Aguero ahead of Thursday’s Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium, and asked the Argentine about Pep Guardiola, Gabriel Jesus, and more.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

At times, it’s a fascinating discussion on playing lone striker. Even apart from the obligatory questions regarding Jesus’ arrival at City, Henry and Aguero speak their craft in a manner you don’t see too often.

That’s helped by the fact that Henry played for Guardiola at Barcelona, and can relate to the positional demands of Man City’s boss. Consider this exchange, from Sky Sports:

HENRY: When I was at Arsenal, I played up front and if I wanted to drift out to the left, I could. But when I got to Barca, I had to stay out wide and press. Sometimes doing that can be hard.

AGUERO: The thing I’ve found the hardest has been getting into my head the fact that I have to press the centre-back and the goalkeeper in matches. That’s what Pep asks me to do. It may not be a big deal, but in terms of processing it, the two of us speak a lot. He knows what I’m like.

I’ve been gradually learning and adapting to that style of pressing over the last few months. The first thing he taught me was how to press and how to do it well. Obviously there are times when I might drift out of position or I might press in an area where I’m not supposed to be, which might make it hard for the wingers or midfielders.

In the game itself, I may not realise because I’m so immersed and you can’t stop yourself. I’ve learnt a lot from him in terms of zones. He asks me to play as a No 9 and to stay in that position. I often drift out wide during matches and he looks at me and says, “If there’s a player out wide who wants to cross it in, who’s in there? Nobody.”

HENRY: I know all about that, believe you me.

I love this, because it shows how difficult it is for an elite striker to adapt his mentality. Both Henry and Aguero found world-celebrated success by playing in a certain fashion, and Guardiola understood that and still demanded a change. Earlier this season, the manager somewhat famously spoke of improving Aguero.

Aguero has been linked with Real Madrid given the tumult at City.