Bayern shouldn’t be judged, but worrisome signs from Guardiola’s early days

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It’s too early to be pass judgment on anybody, but with each moment a team’s on the field gives us chance to consider implications, should a team’s form persist. Particularly when a club has a new player, coach, or way of playing, these moments carry considerable weight, often giving us reason to doubt past performance. It’s always important not to read too much into August results, but it may also be vital to note where and how a team are showing themselves vulnerable.

Which, of course, brings us to the new Bayern Munich, a team that won today’s UEFA Super Cup after defeating Chelsea on penalty kicks in Prague. It was the first silverware of the Pep Guardiola era, yet the performance should also give Bayern fans pause. In the reticent, stalwart approach Chelsea took to the European champions, the Blues showed the formula which often frustrated Guardiola’s Barcelona teams may see similar success against München.

As they did when facing Barcelona in Champions League two years ago — or, as José Mourinho’s Internazionale team did against Barça two years before that — Chelsea showed little appetite for the ball. Instead, their primary concern was maintaining their shape defensively, allowing their midfield block to be pushed to the edge of the penalty area as they sacrificed control and territory for organization.

Their final possession number, 26 percent, was indicative of their willingness to cede, but although Chelsea were outshot 41-14 (10-6, shots on goal), Bayern’s advantage in opportunities wasn’t built until Mourinho’s side took an early lead in extra time. Until Eden Hazard’s 92nd minute tally, Chelsea’s threat on the counter had matched Bayern chance-for-chance. Bayern’s huge edge in possession failed to produce an advantage on the scoreboard, let alone in actual chances.

The exact same thing could be said for Chelsea’s battle against Barcelona two years ago. It also applies to Inter’s win over Barça in 2010 as well as Chelsea’s dramatic loss to Barcelona in 2009, the year Andres Iniesta’s late goal at Stamford Bridge sent the visiting Blaugrana into the final. We saw José Mourinho’s Real Madrid team have success during his first year in Spain employing a similar approach, while Rubin Kazan used the tactic go 1-1-2 (W-L-T) against Guardiola over two Champions League campaigns.

And in the year since Guardiola’s left Barcelona, with the Catalans still employing the approach he instilled when he took over for Frank Rijkaard, Barcelona’s been troubled by the lopsided approaches Celtic, Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, and now Atlético Madrid. The plan doesn’t work every time, with a serious of lower level teams failing to hold off Guardiola’s teams, but when you have enough talent to matchup against his teams’ attackers, the tactics we saw today can offset the stylistic advantage.

source: APThere is an important caveat to this critique, though. A vast majority of the time, Guardiola’s teams simply blow through teams that try to employ conservative approaches. Yes, his Barcelona had trouble against good teams, but who doesn’t have trouble against talented squads? somebody Even elite teams play better against bad teams, worse against good ones. That’s the nature of competition.

But that caveat’s too simple. It’s too reductive. Guaridola’s approach allowed a team like Rubin Kazan — a squad with far less talent than those Barça teams — to be more competitive than they should have been. The philosophy that favors quick, skilled talent over players more likely to win one-on-one physical challenges allowed players like Esteban Cambiasso, Thiago Motta and Javier Zanetti to be disproportionately important in 2010. And it also allowed lesser talented sides like Celtic, Milan, and Atlético Madrid to use basic organization and counterattacking guile to give their teams a betterchance against Barcelona last season.

None of this is original thought, but it’s worth repeating in the wake of what we’re seeing from Bayern Munich. In the Bundesliga, against lesser teams, Bayern is controlling an inordinate amount of possession, even though they’ve yet to post a result in proportion to that dominance. The outscored their opponents 6-1 through three rounds, but on Tuesday, they also lost their perfect record, Freiburg getting an 86th minute goal from Nicolas Höfler to earn a 1-1 result.  Add in today’s result and the 4-2 Super Cup loss to Dortmund and Bayern have a series of decent yet concerning results. After all, this is a team that posted a +80 goal difference in last year’s Bundesliga.

At that really is the point. Bayern are clearly a very good team. You have to be to claim a Super Cup over Chelsea. But are they better than last year’s team, a squad that won three trophies during one of the most dominant club seasons in history? Has Pep Guardiola broken something that didn’t need fixing? Because with one of the most talented teams in Europe, there is one more than one way to this team can win games. Why has Guardiola elected to move away from the won that worked?

Don’t answer that question yet. As noted at the outset, it’s too early to pass judgment on any team. These are, however, those series of moments that allow us to consider implications. And given there was already a formula in place to slow down a Guardiola approach we’re seeing move from Barcelona to Munich, those implications are not positive. At least, they’re not positive compared to last season.

How can Arsenal qualify for last 16 of Champions League?

Arsene Wenger, Arsenal FC
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Heading into the their final UEFA Champions League Group F game, the Gunners are still alive. Just.

Arsenal beat Dinamo Zagreb 3-0 at the Emirates Stadium in London on Tuesday to keep their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League alive for the 16th straight season.

[ MORE: Champions League standings

So, here’s what Arsene Wenger‘s men must do in their final Group F game in two weeks time in Greece to qualify and what other results will mean for the Premier League side.

  • An Arsenal win by a two-goal margin will see Arsenal finish level on points but finish above Olympiakos by virtue of having better goal different in their head-to-head encounters. Hence sealing a spot in the last 16
  • An Arsenal win by a one-goal margin, a draw or a defeat will see Arsenal eliminated and Olympiakos qualify for last 16
  • The Gunners have already sealed at least a Europa League spot regardless of what happens in Athens

There are your scenarios for Arsenal as it’s pretty simple to break it down: Win by two goals and they’re Champions League dream lives on in the last 16.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule

Anything else and it’s a spot of Thursday night soccer in the last 32 of the Europa League for Wenger’s men.

Maccabi Tel-Aviv 0-4 Chelsea: Blues go atop Group G

during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC and Chelsea FC at Sammy Ofer Stadium on November 24, 2015 in Haifa, Israel.
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Chelsea scored thee second-half goals against a ten-man Maccabi side, easing to a 4-0 win in Tel-Aviv tonight.

With the win and Porto’s loss, the Blues now sit atop Group G in the UEFA Champions League, in need of one point from their final match to advance.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

The match got off to a bit of a shaky start for Chelsea, as Tel-Aviv created some early offense on the counter-attack. However, the Blues stuck in after the opening minutes and gained control of the play.

After dominating possession, Chelsea broke through in the 20th minute through Gary Cahill. Willian whipped in a corner kick which Cahill headed on goal, but Predrag Rajkovic made a brilliant save for Tel-Aviv. However, the save hit the post and rolled right back to Cahill, who had an easy tap-in for the goal.

The pitch continued to be tilted in favor of Chelsea, and Tel-Aviv’s chances of a comeback took a huge hit when Tal Ben Haim was sent off in the 40th minute. The former Chelsea man took a wild hack at the legs of Diego Costa, giving the referee an easy decision to show a straight red. It was another case of Costa getting under the skin of his opposition, as Ben Haim lost his cool and made a reckless challenge.

Despite being down to ten men, the hosts didn’t fold in the second half and tried to steal a goal on the counter. After a string of fine saves from Rajkovic to keep Tel-Aviv alive, Asmir Begovic had to come up with a save of his own to keep Chelsea ahead. Eran Zahavi found himself free on the break and fired a shot to the far post, but Begovic just got his fingertips on the ball to hold the lead.

[ RELATED: Zlatan hoping to impress in UCL return to Malmo ]

A bit of bad news came for Chelsea in the 72nd minute, as John Terry went down after getting tangled up in a challenge. The captain looked to be in a lot of pain, as he was stretchered off and replaced by Kurt Zouma.

On the first touch of the ball after Terry’s substitution, Chelsea took a 2-0 lead from a Willian free kick. From his favorite spot at the corner of the box, the Brazilian curled home a set piece to the near post. It was his sixth goal of the season, all of which have come from free kicks in almost the exact same location.

Less than five minutes later, Oscar made it 3-0 for Chelsea. Baba Rahman played in a cross from the left wing as Oscar headed home from close range, officially sealing the points for Jose Mourinho’s men.

Substitute Kurt Zouma would add a fourth for Chelsea in stoppage time, grabbing another headed goal for the Blues in a comfortable yet vital win.

Arsenal 3-0 Dinamo Zagreb: Gunners keep last 16 dreams alive

Alexis Sanchez
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Arsenal eased past Dinamo Zagreb in their penultimate game of UEFA Champions Group F play on Tuesday as two goals from Alexis Sanchez and another from Mesut Ozil did the damage.

Arsene Wenger‘s side now sit in third place on six points in Group F and travel to Olympiakos — who currently sit in second spot on nine points — on the final matchday on Dec. 9 where they will need a win by two goals or more to make the last 16 of the UCL for the 16th straight season.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

The Gunners came flying out of the traps and were 2-0 up inside the first 32 minutes. First up Sanchez got free on the left and curled in a beautiful cross which found the onrushing Ozil who stooped and headed home. 1-0 to the Arsenal.

Moments later it was 2-0 as Nacho Monreal intercepted a pass on the edge of Zagreb’s box and slotted the ball to Sanchez who finished easily to send Wenger’s men into halftime with a healthy lead.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

In the second half Arsenal were hungry for more goals as Eduardo made a good stop from Santi Cazorla‘s shot and then palmed away Olivier Giroud‘s header from the rebound.

To their credit the Croatian outfit stuck to the task and Alexandru Matel went close with an effort but Arsenal always looked dangerous on the break as Costa Rican forward Joel Campbell volleyed an effort just wide.

Arsenal saw out the game with minimum fuss as Sanchez added another in the 69th minute when Campbell set him up neatly and the Chilean grabbed his second and Arsenal’s third of the game to make it 3-0.

That’s how the game finished as the Gunners now face a showdown in Athens in two weeks as their place in the UCL’s last 16 hangs in the balance.

VIDEO: Messi scores first goal since September in typical Barca fashion

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 12:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's 2nd goal goal during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Barcelona at Vicente Calderon Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi is back.

After coming off the bench in Barcelona’s 4-0 win over Real Madrid in El Clasico this weekend, Messi made his first start today since suffering a knee injury in September.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Tuesday’s UCL action ]

Playing against Roma in the Champions League, Barcelona jumped out to a 2-0 lead within 20 minutes, and it is clear Messi is back in form.

After Luis Suarez opened the scoring, Messi doubled Barca’s lead with a brilliant team goal, started with a string of one-touch passes before a delicate chip over the keeper from the Argentinian.

To everyone facing Barcelona in the near future, beware.