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

8 Comments

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.

Report: Liverpool to escape punishment over Van Dijk pursuit

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Times states that Liverpool will not be punished further for pursuing Southampton defender Virgil Van Dijk.

[ MORE: Expectations for PL managers

Earlier this month the Reds issued a public apology to Southampton and stated they had ended their interest in the 25-year-old Dutch defender following allegations that Van Dijk was flown to Blackpool (just north of Liverpool) to meet with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and their manager messaged VVD “regularly” as they chased the Dutch international.

Southampton, as you would expect, were far from happy about this so-called “tapping up” from Liverpool and reported the Reds to the Premier League by making an official complaint.

Liverpool’s apology was then followed by a preliminary investigation, but reports state that there will be no further action taken against Liverpool by the PL with “insufficient evidence” to support the claims surrounding the alleged “tapping up” of Van Dijk and unless new evidence arrives then the case will be closed.

Regardless, this whole episode has been incredibly embarrassing for Liverpool, especially when you take into account their current ban from signing academy players when a similar case cropped up over chasing a youngster in Stoke City’s academy.

Klopp has not only lost the chance to sign Van Dijk (at least, that’s the way it seems for now) but Liverpool have also lost some respect for the way they supposedly went about this business. American owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) went to great lengths to apologize for this situation and are keen to stress they always conduct their business in a respect manner.

Now, we would all be a little naive to believe that this type of thing doesn’t happen a lot in soccer. A player (usually through his agent) will perhaps gently let another team know he’s interested in a move to them, and the ball gets rolling from there. Of course, the two clubs are supposed to agree a fee for the player first and then said player can meet with his potential new club to square away the details.

Southampton are said to still be furious about the approach from Liverpool to Van Dijk, so much so that if they were to sell their star player and captain this summer (they maintain he’s not for sale) they’d rather take less money from another club (Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal are all said to be interested) than let him leave for Anfield for over $70 million.

After Liverpool plucked Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne and Sadio Mane from Saints in the past few years, it’s easy to understand why the South Coast club are now standing firm and saying enough is enough.

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

[ MORE: Full FIFA-Qatar report leaked? ]

Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

Photo by Lukas Schulze - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images
Leave a comment

SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

[ MORE: USMNT’s 23-man roster questions ]

That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup