Manchester City v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League

Bayern Munich brilliance, Joe Hart follies see Manchester City fall, 3-1


We’ve seen Joe Hart make mistakes before. Of late, it’s happened so many times, people are starting to ask what has to happen for him to lose his job.

That sentiment may seem like hyperbole, but in terms of today’s match, it’s hard to imagine a more impactful, more preventable mistake. That it happened early against a team capable of keeping over 70 percent of the ball may have doomed whatever hopes Manchester City had of knocking off Bayern Munich. The holders would go on to win at the Etihad, cruising to a 3-1. And unfortunately for Hart, that seventh minute mistake wasn’t his only blunder.

Allowing Franck Ribéry’s opener was inexcusable, with a strong blast from well beyond the penalty area hopping over Hart’s outstretched arm to beat him near-post. Seven minutes in, Hart had already given a Pep Guardiola team license to hog the ball without pushing for goals. Though no Ribéry shot can be taken lightly, this was a stop you see average goalkeepers regularly parry with ease. On Tuesday, however, it became the latest example in a disturbing list of mistakes from the England No. 1.

Though Hart wasn’t as embarrassed on Bayern’s last two, they were stops other keepers would have made. In the 56th minute, after left back Gaël Clichy was badly beaten on a run from the right wing, Joe Hart had a chance to claim a ball that Thomas Müller’s attempted trap had put within reach. But Hart hesitated, allowed Müller to retain possession, and was helpless to stop a ball that was eventually put into an empty net.

The final goal gave Hart the rare indignity of having allowed a goal from an Arjen Robben right-footed shot. And given the way the play developed, he should have been in better positioned to stop it. In the 59th minute, Toni Kroos  stripped Fernandinho at the center line before feeding right to Robben. The Dutch international bore down on left-center half Matija Nastasic, with the Serbian international steering him to the right of goal (onto his weaker right foot). Robben’s one chance was near post, but Hart failed to get in position to protect his goal. The right-footed punch, flying well inside Hart’s post, went off the keeper, off the woodwork and in – Bayern’s third preventable goal.

A stellar finish from Álvaro Negredo would ruin Bayern’s cleansheet, the Spaniards left-footed curler eluding Jerome Boateng at the edge of the area – an unstoppable shot that moved outside then in off Manuel Neuer’s right post. But 11 minutes from time, the goal was pure consolation, even if Boateng would see a straight red in the 86th minute after Yaya Touré raced passed Dante to a ball put behind the defense.

source: AP
Bayern Munich, pictured here celebrating Thomas Müller’s goal, are perfect through two rounds of Champions League group play, posting a +5 goal difference in wins over CSKA Moscow and Manchester City. (Photo: AP Photo.)

Hart’s troubles shouldn’t overshadow the fact that City were decidedly second best, almost entirely through Bayern’s doing. Even in the few minutes before Ribéry’s opener, the holders looked set to make this into a typical München performance. Although the presence of central defender Vincent Kompany, coming into midfield to challenge early, and surprising right back selection Micah Richards provided a physical dimension that forced Bayern to adjust, that adjustment period didn’t take long. Were it not for the competition name and the expensive collection of talent in Sky Blue kits, you’d swear this we just another one-sided, controlling league affair from the best team in the world.

Per Opta, Bayern held 66 percent of the ball. For most of the game, it was above 70. They outshot their hosts 20-9, getting eight shots on target to City’s two. They hit the woodwork once (as did City) and forced the Sky Blues into six blocked shots. They had 719 passes to City’s 370, with nine of Bayern starters eclipsing Yaya Touré’s City-leading mark (43 passes).

And just like last round’s 3-0 win over CSKA, today’s win provided another illustration of what Guardiola’s tweaks are capable of producing. As great as last season was — so great that nobody dared imagine how it could be better — Bayern didn’t show this kind of strangling control. They were dominant, as their semifinal demolition of Barcelona showed, and they were successful, as any European Cup would affirm. But this type of start-to-finish, whistle-to-whistle suffocation wasn’t there.

Their style was marauding. The waves of their constant attacks were oppressive. The pressure Mario Mandzukic, Robben, Ribèry and Müller exerted prevented lesser competition from collecting hope. Their results (+80 goal difference in league) became embarrassing.

For some reason, Guardiola has decided to change that, and only against competition like CSKA or Manchester City have we seen the end game. Sacrificing the second deep midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation for another player higher in a 4-1-4-1, Guardiola has dared to fuse the best of Bayern and Barcelona. He has the audacity to imagine Bayern’s oppression combined with Barcelona’s control.

Manchester City became the first team to see the dream. If Bayern can do this on a week-in, week-out basis, they have a chance to improve on last year’s squad, even if the stats will never reflect it.

Regardless, the defending champions have moved clear in Group D, having taken three points at the home of their stiffest competition.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.