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.

While PSG has won the title, Areola’s playing for his future

Twitter/@OptaJean
Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) Although Paris Saint-Germain has easily won the French title, Alphonse Areola still has plenty to play for.

The next four games could be crucial in deciding whether PSG keeps the goalkeeper or tries to sign a big name in the transfer window, possibly Thibaut Courtois. The 25-year-old Areola is the same age as Courtois, but has nowhere near the international standing of the Chelsea keeper.

[ MORE: Turkey hands bid plans to UEFA for EURO 2024 ]

It is hard for Areola to stand out, however, in a team noted almost singularly for its attacking prowess. While PSG has already scored more than 100 league goals, and remains on course to reach 100 points this season, Areola has rarely been talked about.

The common perception is that PSG will thrash teams in the French league, so letting in a goal or two is irrelevant.

However, Areola has been one of PSG’s most consistent players this season, and last Sunday he made a personal record of eight saves in a 1-0 win at Bordeaux.

He was also one of the few PSG players to come through the loss to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League with any credit. Without Areola’s shot-stopping, and particularly his bravery rushing off his line, the 5-2 aggregate loss would have been bigger.

With 104 goals, PSG’s attack is the best in the league by far and has netted 25 more than deposed champion Monaco.

But PSG’s defense is also the best and Areola has conceded only 21 goals in the 31 he has played. Although PSG has dominated most of those, losing only twice all season, he has still made on average four saves per game.

Having replaced Kevin Trapp as No. 1, Areola has missed only three league games all season. It represents a reversal for both.

When Trapp was signed by former coach Laurent Blanc in 2015-16, Areola went on loan to Spanish club Villarreal. He established himself as regular in Villarreal’s side and gained further experience in the Europa League. Spanish media were largely impressed by his consistency and his agility on the goal-line.

He returned to PSG and battled with Trapp for the starting position last season. But coach Unai Emery seemed unsure who he really preferred, with Trapp starting 24 games to Areola’s 14. PSG ended up losing the title to Monaco.

But the hierarchy is much clearer now and the error-prone Trapp, once hailed by Blanc for his passing out from goal, is the one expected to leave.

Areola has further incentive to do well with the World Cup coming up. He is challenging Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to be France’s No. 2 behind Hugo Lloris in Russia. For now, Areola is a squad member but has yet to make an international appearance under coach Didier Deschamps.

But he has done well at every level for France, starting with the under-16s a decade ago. He got his first taste of international success when he helped France win the Under-20 World Cup in 2013.

While Paul Pogba was one of the stars of the tournament, Areola’s crowning moment came in the final itself. France drew 0-0 with Uruguay and he saved two shots in the penalty shootout. Prior to the shootout he had a word with France’s designated penalty takers, confidently telling them “do your job and I’ll do mine.”

With Emery almost certain to be replaced next season, it promises to be a frenetic offseason of buying and selling at the club.

But whoever replaces Emery should perhaps think twice before letting Areola leave. The Parisian-born Areola came through the youth ranks at PSG, as did center half Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

Star-studded sides like PSG often import their best players and fans are happy to see them arrive, because it shows ambition. But they nevertheless identify more closely with homegrown talents such as Areola.

More AP Ligue 1 coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Ligue1

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Infantino has ‘full confidence’ in Samoura amid ethics issue

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

ZURICH (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he retains “full confidence” in secretary general Fatma Samoura after an attempt to embroil her in an ethics investigation.

[ MORE: Turkey hands in bid plans to UEFA for 2024 EUROs ]

Samoura has expressed irritation at “totally ridiculous and baseless” claims she broke FIFA rules by not declaring an alleged conflict of interest in the 2026 World Cup bidding contest.

FIFA has not specified the exact nature of the complaint or the progress of any ethics investigation after it was alleged she was a relative of former Senegal player El Hadji Diouf, who is an ambassador for Morocco’s bid.

Samoura insisted on Wednesday the former Liverpool forward “is not a member of my family and therefore everything is crystal clear.”

FIFA’s top administrator received a public show of support from Infantino.

“I can confirm my full confidence in Fatma Samoura to lead the FIFA administration,” Infantino said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The former United Nations official was hired by Infantino in 2016 months after he was elected as Sepp Blatter’s successor.

Morocco is due to take on a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico in the June 13 vote for the 2026 World Cup host.

Photo: Flamengo supporter tattoos club jersey on body

MAURÍCIO DOS ANJOS VIA VICE
Leave a comment

A supporter in Brazil has taken fandom to a whole new level with a piece of body art that shows his devotion to the club.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

Maurício dos Anjos, a passionate Flamengo fan, has been a life-long supporter of the Rio de Janeiro-based club, and has the tattoo to prove it.

While it may look like body paint, Dos Anjos has a tattoo on the upper-half of his body depicting the Flamengo jersey, and it’s pretty awesome.

“People ask me if I don’t find it strange that I’m always wearing a Flamengo shirt. And I just don’t,” dos Anjos told VICE. “To me, it’s normal. But it doesn’t seem like anyone I talk to about it actually dislikes my tattoo.”

In total, Dos Anjos says the body work took over 90 hours and 30 sessions to complete the tattoo.

Has the perception of MLS really changed?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
3 Comments

When David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles back in 2007 his presence changed the complexion of Major League Soccer for all the right reasons, and the perception of the growing league changed.

[ MORE: Go behind the scenes at NYCFC’s new training facility ]

Over the years, MLS has strived to move into the upper-echelon of the global game, in an attempt to compete with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, but naysayers still indicate to this day that the United States’ top flight lacks the quality of the aforementioned.

Phrases like “retirement league” and “uninspired” have been used to describe MLS in the past, particularly when it comes to the league’s willingness to spend boatloads of cash on notable players well past their prime.

Examples such as Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Rafael Marquez have at times dampened the perception of MLS due to the lack of quality on the pitch from those players, along with several others that had previously boasted extensive resumes.

Now, we’re at a time where MLS has picked up its scouting, with clubs focused more on younger, more skilled talents from South America and Europe.

That has led to major signings over the past several years, such as Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Diego Rossi and Jesus Medina, to name a few.

Has that changed the overall complexion of MLS though?

On Thursday, Kevin De Bruyne‘s agent, Patrick de Koster, suggested in an interview that the Belgium international would likely “finish” his career in MLS.

“For now, he’s very happy at this club,” De Koster said. “We always look what the best solution for the player, both financially and football wise. Kevin’s future? I can see him finish at Los Angeles.”

This comes on the heels of a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy in a move that has sent shockwaves across the league and the world because of the Swede’s great presence on a global scale.

It’s not to say that players like Ibrahimovic, or previous signings like David Villa and Didier Drogba cannot help the overall growth of MLS, because they certainly bring an awareness to the matches and draw attention to their respective clubs.

However, the long-term viability of MLS has been and will continue to be sustained on youth players succeeding in the league, as well as being able to draw promising young talents into the top flight of the U.S.