Home draw with Galatasaray should raise concerns for Juventus in Champions League

Leave a comment

Consider what lies ahead for Juventus after today’s 2-2 draw with Galatasaray. Rounds three and four are a home-and-home with Real Madrid. Round six is a trip to Istanbul. Juventus should still be favored to get out of their group, but if Galatasaray sweep their two games with Copenhagen, things get very interesting this time next month. The Italian champions could close group stage with a must-win at the Türk Telekom Arena.

That’s one possibility after today’s the result, the second straight game where Juventus got one point from a match they were expected to win. Last round, the Old Lady was held to a 1-1 in Copenhagen, missing out on points against the group’s weakest side. Today, Didier Drogba took advantage of a Juventus mistake on the opener, with Umut Bulut’s 88th minute equalizer pulling back a lead snatched by Arturo Vidal and Fabio Quagliarella.

It was a match where, despite their obvious quality, Juventus never saw profits from their control. In the 37th minute, an under-hit backpass for Leonardo Bonucci created the first goal, Drogba finishing into an open net Gianluigi Buffon was compelled to abandon. It was the 78th minute before Juve equalized, a contentious penalty call allowing Vidal to convert from the spot, while Quagliarella (brought on early for an injured Mirko Vucinic) headed home a Andrea Pirlo cross in the 86th minute, apparently giving Juventus a win in Roberto Mancini’s Gala debut.

But two minutes later, when Drogba headed down for Bulut, the script flipped, and not just in terms of this match. Instead of sitting on four points and sitting three clear of third place, Juventus are pulled back to two points, scarcely ahead of both Galatasaray and Copenhagen. Now, instead of last round’s result looking like a point found on the road, it becomes a lost chance to offset the points they dropped today.

source: Getty Images
Antonio Conte’s Juventus sit second in Group B after two rounds, but with two games against Real Madrid before a trip to Istanbul, Juve’s most difficult matches lie ahead. (Photo: Getty Images.)

Those are Group B’s dynamics. More worrisome is Juventus’s actual play. Though they’re near perfect in Serie A (5-0-1), their recent results have evoked their form of two years ago, where close calls and late comebacks defined their title campaign. This weekend against Torino, a second half winner from Paul Pogba obscured the fact the Bianconeri just weren’t playing that well (at least, not close to their potential). Carried over into Europe, that form saw them drop points.

With Carlos Tévez and Fernando Llorente joining the team this summer, Juventus looked set to push on, transferring their Serie A success into Champions League. That clearly hasn’t happened, and seeing how Italy’s other Champions League teams are performing, we have to start considering whether we can infer any more from Juventus’s Italian titles than we can from Porto’s in Portugal or Ajax’s in the Netherlands. Serie A is clearly above those standards, but when you see Napoli so far behind Arsenal’s pace while Milan struggle needs a late penalty to get a result in Amsterdam, it’s worth keeping in mind. The demise of Serie A may be overlooked in some’s excitement about Juventus.

As far as this year’s tournament goes, it’s only two games. Juventus has plenty of time to recover. And when judging Serie A as a whole, it’s only been six games. There isn’t enough information to transform our ideas into conclusions.

But with Juventus struggling, it may be time for new ideas. Antonio Conte will need to come up with a few to get Juventus results against Real Madrid.

Spartak and Zenit fined in latest Russia fan racism cases

AP Photo/Julia Chestnova
Leave a comment

MOSCOW (AP) Spartak Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg have both been fined for racist chants by their fans, the latest such incident in World Cup host nation Russia.

Spartak’s fans were accused of aiming monkey chants at FC Tosno player Nuno Rocha, who is black, while some Zenit supporters allegedly chanted a Nazi slogan during a league game.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

The clubs must each pay a 100,000-ruble ($1,600) fine, and Spartak has been hit with a partial stadium closure for its next cup game, state news agency RIA Novosti quotes Russian Football Union disciplinary committee head Artur Grigoryants as saying.

The verdict comes after FIFA charged Russia with racist abuse of France players during last month’s friendly.

Zenit has also faced two racism charges from UEFA this season.

Europa League: Arsenal, Marseille host semifinal 1st legs

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsenal’s Champions League dreams could be in for a rude awakening against tournament-tested Atletico Madrid.

The Premier League vs. La Liga match-up is one of two Europa League semifinal first legs set to be served up Sunday, with Marseille and Red Bull Salzburg meeting in the other.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

There’s something romantic about Arsene Wenger closing out his time at Arsenal against French opposition in Lyon, but Atleti and Salzburg won’t step aside for poetics.

Both matches kickoff ay 3:05 p.m. ET

Arsenal vs. Atletico Madrid

It’s a bit stunning that this tie has no history considering both club’s statures in their leagues and Europe, but that’s what we’ll se when Arsenal welcomes Atleti for the first leg.

Arsenal boasts two of the top 10 performers in the UEL this season — it would be three had the Gunners not sold Theo Walcott — and are paced by Aaron Ramsey, who has four goals and an assist. Mesut Ozil, who’s ready to return to the pitch, has the reverse with a goal and four helpers.

The Gunners have outscored UEL opposition 29-10 this season.

It’s no surprise that Antoine Griezmann has been Atleti’s best attacker since the Madrid side dropped out of the UCL to run rampant through the UEL knockout rounds. Atleti beat Copenhagen 5-1, Lokomotiv Moscow 8-1, and Sporting Lisbon 2-1 for an aggregate score line of 15-3.

Marseille vs. Red Bull Salzburg

Don’t expect this to be a simple case of Ligue 1 bossing inferior opposition: This pair met in the group stage, with the Austrian side winning at home and drawing 0-0 in France.

Salzburg has shown its mettle in various ways during the UEL. After allowing just one goal in an unbeaten group stage, they’ve won 4-3 over Real Sociedad, 2-1 against Borussia Dortmund, and 6-5 versus Lazio. That’s no easy road, and Marseille represents another big challenge.

Marseille is bidding to make its first European final since 2004, and has been led by Dimitri Payet‘s three goals and four assists, and Lucas Ocampos’ four goals and one assist. Marseille has knocked off RB Leipzig, Athletic Bilbao, and Braga after the group stage.

Names you’ll need to know from Salzburg: defenders Stefan Lainer and Paulo Miranda have been spectacular, and Munas Dabbur and Valon Berisha have each scored five times in the tournament.

Mourinho on longtime nemesis Wenger: ‘We can be friends in future’

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger have had a poor relationship, but the former thinks he’s soon to get along with the latter.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

Manchester United boss Mourinho, 55, heaped praise on the departing Arsenal manager ahead of the two sides’ Sunday meeting at Old Trafford (Watch live at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), saying the Frenchman has earned much respect.

Branding Wenger “iconic,” Mourinho says his fiery rivalry with Wenger stemmed from Arsenal’s stature in the Premier League when the Portuguese took over Chelsea.

“If he respects me even 50 percent of what I respect him we can even be friends in the future,” Mourinho told Sky Sports News. “I have lots of respect for him. But the reality is that he was at Arsenal, he was the champion and I came to the country in 2004 and wanted to steal his title. That’s football.”

Mourinho said he’s tried to show his respect for Wenger, 68, over the past few seasons. It may become a passable relationship, but we find it hard to believe the pair will be dining together on a regular basis as the sun sets on their managerial careers (Mou has a while to go, we think).

Real’s Modric on Bayern feeling unlucky: “That’s their problem”

AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
Leave a comment

Bayern Munich produced far more chances than visiting Real Madrid in Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg in Germany, but lost 2-1 at the Allianz Arena.

Franck Ribery butchered an open shot at goal, Robert Lewandowski beat Keylor Navas but didn’t score late, and Thomas Mueller missed getting contact on a shot inside the six.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

It was that kind of day, and Mueller is baffled that his team did not finish more than Joshua Kimmich’s opener.

“Everybody is wondering why this game is 1-2 for Madrid,” Mueller reportedly said. “We still cannot believe it.”

The quote comes from BeIN Sport’s Tancredi Palmeri, who has a stinging rebuke from Real Madrid maestro Luka Modric.

Real wasn’t great on Wednesday, but also limited their big mistakes to one: Marcelo’s lapse of judgment which helped Kimmich to open the scoring for Bayern Munich.

The hosts had a huge giveaway from Rafinha on the match-winner, and backup backstop Sven Ulreich didn’t have a phenomenal day on either goal. Throw in Arjen Robben’s injury requiring an 8th minute substitution, and Bayern did not have much good fortune on the day.

This one, though, doesn’t seem over, even with the tie moving to the Bernabeu.