Late Lewandowski winner sees Borussia Dortmund past Arsenal

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Two slips bookending an otherwise solid performance undid Arsenal on Tuesday, the new ambition of Arsène Wenger’s side handed a harsh reminder from one of last year’s finalists. An Aaron Ramsey error, leading to a 16th minute goal, and pristine execution on a 82nd minute counter saw visiting Borussia Dortmund take full points from the Emirates, their 2-1 win claiming a valuable road win in UEFA Champions League’s toughest group.

The result, along with Napoli’s 2-1 win in Marseille, leave three teams tied at the top of Group F, though perhaps more importantly, Borussia Dortmund becomes the first of the trio to draw blood on the road. With home games remaining against Arsenal and Napoli, BVB have the inside track to first place in the group, leaving Arsenal hoping to reclaim lost points two weeks from now in Dortmund.

It took Arsenal 16 minutes and Ramsey mistake’s to wake up, a first quarter-hour spent second best to their visitors capped by a goal from Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Ramsey, foolishly trying to dribble through Borussia Dortmund’s attackers at the edge of his own penalty area, created the first goal, a turnover forced by Marco Reus helping Robert Lewandowski set up his teammate’s finish into the right of goal.

With the lead, Dortmund receded back into their more comfortable posture. Instead of orchestrating the match, they reacted to it, allowing Arsenal to come into the game. By the half hour mark, the Gunners looked like their normal selves, even if they were still chasing a goal.

source: Reuters
Olivier Giroud, celebrating his goal on Tuesday, pulled back Borussia Dortmund’s early lead. (Photo: Reuters.)

That goal was pulled back just before halftime, in no small part because of Dortmund’s lax defending. With Arsenal in possession at the edge of their attacking third, a ball played wide to the oncoming Bacary Sagna gave the Arsenal right back all the time in the world to put a ball right inside the six-yard box. Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller came for the ball but positioned himself to take it on the bounce, leaving his net open as Olivier Giroud got inside Neven Subotic and half-volleyed Arsenal’s equalizer home.

Coming out of halftime, Dortmund tried to resume the presence they had at the match’s onset, though they found more resistance. Arsenal had woken up, and while Dortmund were enjoying more possession then they had over the first half’s final 15 minutes, they weren’t generating additional chances. Arsenal still looked the slightly better hide, coming close to a winner when substitute Santi Cazorla hit the woodwork.

In the last quarter-hour Arsenal started pushing for their winner, an impertinence for which they’d pay. One 82nd minute dash down the right from Jakub Blaszczykowski, one sublime far post cross, and an exquisitely finished volley from Lewandowski gave Dortmund their second lead of the match. The counter-attacking posture that seemed ill-advised in the first half paid off in the second, taking advantage of Arsenal’s pursuit and a poor decision from Kieran Gibbs to snatch the game-winning goal.

source: Reuters
Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyeng celebrate in front of Borussia Dortmund’s fans after Tuesday’s game-winning goal. (Photo: Reuters.)

Had Arsenal not been so slow out of the gate, the match may have gone the other way, a difficult caveat to cling to given the Gunners’ opportunities to win this match. That they didn’t tells of their relative strength in this season of resurgence. Like other recent leaders in England, they’ve found Champions League to be a much higher level, and while Arsène Wenger’s team may yet do damage in this year’s tournament, for one night they allowed their fate to get away from them. Borussia Dortmund, despite having lost at Napoli in match one, is now in control of their group stage fate.

That they reclaimed it without three of their normal starters was telling, though we’ve long gotten used to the absences of Ilkay Gündogen and Lukasz Piszczek. With the likes of Lewandowski and Mkhitarayan, one counterattack or opponent’s slip at the edge of the penalty area is all BVB need. More than any other team in Europe, they’ve become accustomed to making the most of those situations.

Wenger called it yesterday, in his pre-match press conference. What separates Dortmund is their efficiency; their quality. Often content with few chances, their execution makes offsets their willingness to cede control. As Arsenal managed the body of the match, they may have forgotten: Dortmund’s as dangerous controlling the match as they are when they’re being controlled.

Perhaps Arsenal, just now coming to rips with renewed ambitions, needed to be reminded of the difference between Premier League quality and Champions League excellence. Dortmund provided that tonight.

Tuesday’s lineups:

ARSENAL: Wojciech Szczesny; Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs; Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta; Tomas Rosicky, Mesut Özil, Jack Wilshere; Olivier Giroud

Substitutes: Serge Gnabry, Niklas Bendtner, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Vermaelen, Lukasz Fabianski, Carl Jenkinson, Nacho Monreal

BORUSSIA DORTMUND: Roman Weidenfeller; Kevin Großkreutz, Neven Subotic, Mats Hummels, Marcel Schmelzer; Sven Bender, Nuri Shain; Jakub Blaszczykowski, Henrikh Mkhitaryan; Robert Lewandowski

Substitutes: Jonas Hofmann, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Oliver Kirch, Erik Durm, Mitchell Langerak, Julian Schieber

Premier League preview: Man United vs. Newcastle United

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  • Red Devils unbeaten in 31 of last 32 home fixtures vs. Newcastle
  • Newcastle winless in its last six PL matches
  • Lukaku hasn’t scored in United’s last seven games

Manchester United hosts Newcastle United on Saturday from Old Trafford (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) as the Red Devils could potentially welcome back several of it biggest stars for the match.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Marcos Rojo could return for Jose Mourinho’s side this weekend, as Man United looks to bounce back from its 1-0 defeat to Chelsea on Nov. 5.

The ex-Sweden international Ibrahimovic hasn’t appeared in a match since April 2017, after being United’s top goalscorer a season ago.

The Red Devils will have to deal with the absence of Phil Jones at the back, though, as the England international misses out on the match with a thigh injury.

Newcastle will be without Christian Atsu and Jamaal Lascelles, which certainly hurts the squad’s attack, while Mikel Merino and Paul Dummett remain sidelined with respective injuries.

What they’re saying

Jose Mourinho, on Paul Pogba’s status:  “I can say now because he’s back – I don’t like to speak while he’s injured – you can clearly see there is a Manchester United this season before Paul’s injury and after Paul’s injury. There are qualities in our football, qualities that influence our approach in matches, with Pogba and without Pogba. Simple as that.”

Rafa Benitez, on growing pains of being a young side“We are a newly-promoted club that has to settle down in the Premier League. We have a young squad, so it’s a learning process for everyone and losing some games is part of the process. Hopefully we can stop that this weekend, but we know it has to be like this. We have to think that the target is to stay in the Premier League, then after try to go as high as we can in the table.”

Prediction

Newcastle has had its share of struggles this season, and running into a Man United side that is gaining full fitness is a dangerous task. The Red Devils are a tough squad to beat at home, so Rafa Benitez and Co. have their hands full. Man United 2-0 Newcastle

Luiz back in Chelsea squad after being dropped by Conte

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David Luiz‘s pair of stints at Chelsea have been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride of emotions — joyous highs and painful lows.

[ MORE: Pogba, Zlatan back form injuries; available this weekend ]

After returning to the club for a second time in the summer of 2016, Luiz instantly slotted into Antonio Conte‘s three-man backline and was a pivotal part of the Blues’ title-winning team last season.

Much like the second half of his first four seasons at Chelsea, Luiz’s second season (the second time around) has started so hotly. After playing eight of the first 10 games during Chelsea’s ongoing title defense, Luiz was unexpectedly dropped from the squad for the victory over Manchester United.

Now, two weeks later, Conte has announced that Luiz has rejoined the squad and is available for selection when his side visits West Brom on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold) — quotes from the Guardian:

“David Luiz is in the squad, yes. [His exclusion] was a technical decision. When it’s a technical decision every player has to react well and accept my decision. It’s normal, this.

“I like to speak about the team and the next game that we have to pay attention to. This is the most important thing, not speaking about a single player. I repeat: I don’t like to speak about a single player.”

Pogba, Zlatan, Rojo return from injuries for Man Utd-Newcastle

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The only saving grace when it comes to injuries is that, eventually (usually), players recover from them and return to the team.

[ MORE: 2018 World Cup Power Rankings — who comes out on top? ]

It’s been a long seven months for the soccer world to be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic (torn ACL on April 20), just as it’s been a painfully long 10 weeks for Manchester United fans following Paul Pogba‘s hamstring injury on Sept. 12. Man United have dropped eight points during the latter’s absence and now coincidentally sit eight points behind Manchester City in the Premier League title race.

A bit of good news on this Friday: United manager Jose Mourinho announced today that the dynamic duo, along with defender Marcos Rojo (knee ligament damage on April 20) have returned to full fitness and will be available for selection during Saturday’s home clash with Newcastle United (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) — quotes from ManUtd.com:

“The players that stayed here and [were] recovering from injuries, even the ones that are recovering from big injuries, they are ready to play — Pogba, Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo.”

“[Ibrahimovic] made a full recovery. Now you cannot expect him to be ready to play 90 minutes or to be ready to play consecutive matches like he did all his career.

“Now he needs time to be back to his level, his fitness, his confidence, his sharpness, his everything. But, from the clinical point of view, to be good and ready is fantastic.”

2018 World Cup Power Rankings — 7 months B.W.C.

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209 days — that’s how long the world is still being made to wait for the opening game of the 2018 World Cup. It’s close, in that all 32 berths have been secured, but still so far, in that the draw is still two weeks away.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s 2018 World Cup coverage | USMNT | Premier League ]

Perhaps then, and only then, will it begin to feel really real.

According to our esteemed panelists — Joe Prince-Wright, Nicholas Mendola, Kyle Bonn, Matt Reed, Dan Karell and yours truly — four clear-cut favorites for the semifinals have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, followed by another six or eight sides with one half of their squad firing on all cylinders but some serious kinks to work out elsewhere.

[ MORE: Round 1 of the WC power rankings | Round 2 ]

Finally, the latest edition of PST’s 2018 World Cup Power Rankings, now featuring all 32 teams qualified for Russia…

Team Points Best Worst
1 (1) Germany 189 1 2
2 (2) Brazil 188 1 3
3 (4) Spain 177 3 5
4 (3) France 176 3 5
5 (8) Argentina 158 4 10
6 (5) Belgium 156 4 10
7 (7) Portugal 153 6 10
8 (11) England 150 5 12
9 (6) Uruguay 141 6 14
10 (9) Colombia 140 7 12
11 (10) Mexico 129 8 14
12 (12) Poland 125 10 14
13 (20) Croatia 118 7 20
14 (17) Switzerland 115 12 16
15 (NR) Sweden 92 16 19
16 (NR) Denmark 86 13 23
17 (NR) Serbia 83 9 28
18 (NR) Peru 80 15 25
19 (15) Iceland 79 15 24
20 (16) Japan 71 16 27
21 (NR) Egypt 66 18 27
22 (NR) South Korea 64 13 32
23 (NR) Senegal 63 17 26
24 (18) Nigeria 58 15 27
25 (19) Costa Rica 57 14 29
26 (NR) Morocco 48 18 29
27 (NR) Australia 45 22 30
28 (NR) Russia 36 20 32
29 (NR) Iran 34 22 31
30 (NR) Tunisia 30 23 31
31 (NR) Panama 19 28 32
32 (NR) Saudi Arabia 9 31 32