Britain Soccer Champions League

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

Hull City promoted, but Steve Bruce still considering future

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28:  Steve Bruce, manager of Hull City lifts the trophy after victory in the Sky Bet Championship Play Off Final match between Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley Stadium on May 28, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Steve Bruce saw Hull City go down to the Championship, and pulled the Tigers right back up the Premier League.

Hull won promotion at the first time of asking after defeating Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 on Saturday, but Bruce wants to see stability at the KC Stadium.

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The club remains up for sale after owner Assem Allam saw his request to change the team name to Hull Tigers denied by the English Football Association.

From the BBC:

“I’ll sit down with the owners. It’s not often you walk away from the Premier League – that’s where I want to manage,” Bruce told BBC Radio 5 live.

“But I have to be given certain assurances that we’re all moving in the right direction.

“I keep hearing too many stories that there’s a takeover imminent. We’ll see what develops,” added the 55-year-old.

The longtime Manchester United back has been around the managerial block a few times, and it’d be nice to see him stay at Hull for the long term. He’s led the Tigers into the Premier League on two occasions, and is — seriously — the seventh longest tenured manager in the Football League. He would enter the Premier League as the second-longest serving manager, to Arsene Wenger.

BREAKING: Olympiacos striker Pulido kidnapped in Mexico

DRENTHE, NETHERLANDS - JULY 29:  Alan Pulido of Olympiacos in action during the pre season friendly match between FC Twente and Olympiacos Piraeus held at Sportpark Veenoord on July 29, 2015 in New Amsterdam and Veenoord, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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Terrifying news out of Mexico, where 25-year-old Mexican national team striker Alan Pulido has reportedly been kidnapped in his hometown.

Pulido, 25, has four goals in six caps for El Tri and moved to Olympiacos in 2015, where he scored five goals in eight matches.

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Various reports claim that Pulido and his girlfriend were taken after masked gunmen cut off the vehicle in which they were riding, and only released the girlfriend.

From the Associated Press:

The official says the 25-year-old player was kidnapped near his hometown of Ciudad Victoria on Sunday after leaving a party.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case under investigation.

Klinsmann hails Zardes’ character; USMNT forward likes his first touch

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 29:  Gyasi Zardes #9 of the United States Men's National Team controls the ball against Guatemala during the FIFA 2018  World Cup qualifier on March 29, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The United States defeated Guatemala 4-0.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Gyasi Zardes’ remarkable rise from Cal State Bakersfield to fixture on the United States men’s national team is one of the better stories in recent team history.

The USMNT attacker nabbed his fourth and fifth international goals in Saturday night’s blowout of Bolivia, and he’s up to 25 caps since making his debut in Jan. 2015.

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Jurgen Klinsmann deserves some credit for putting the L.A. Galaxy on the field almost religiously as Zardes works on so many facets of his game. He’s improved dramatically in positioning, runs and 1v1 battles and reportedly soaks up information like a sponge. Klinsmann loves the guy, and for good reason.

It’s also important to note that, despite his ever-present status, Zardes remains 24 and a work in progress.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Sometimes it’s perfect, and maybe the next day it’s not so good, but it’s totally fine – because every player has his strengths and weaknesses. So as long as they keep on working on those weaknesses and getting them better and better, it’s totally fine. He’s very straight in his thought process in front of the goal. He knows exactly what he wants to do.

“You have to follow your first thought. That’s crucial. If you start to have two thoughts, then you’re going to get messed up. He was very calm, putting two goals in there, and the whole game he was involved. It’s coming along.”

Zardes’ club goal production dropped last year from roughly a goal every other game to one every three, but he’s been growing as a playmaer and this season has four goals and four assists through 11 matches.

I really like Zardes — see my post calling for his USMNT call-up in 2014 — but let me say one negative thing about his bristling at first touch questions and saying, “To be honest, me personally, I think I have a good first touch”: I’m glad he feels that way and his woes may be a bit overblown, but calling his Saturday goals first touch goals is accurate but kind of hilarious.

The criticism of his first touch, which his betrayed him on major scoring chances in each of the last two USMNT matches, has nothing to do when his first touch is directed at goal. On his brace last night, the first was a good finish where he had to work it past the keeper and the second was a plant foot shot. Both, in fact, were shots.

Those count as your first touch on the ball, but when we discuss first touch it’s about taking the ball off a pass or dribble and possessing it for a purpose. Of course he was right to shoot, but it’s cool if your eyes rolled pretty hard in reading his comments.

Koeman: Manchester United “don’t deserve a medal” for treatment of Louis van Gaal

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 20:  Louis van Gaal, Manager of  Manchester United talks to Ronald Koeman, Manager of Southampton during the  Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Manchester United at St Mary's Stadium on September 20, 2015 in Southampton, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)
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When it comes to the firing of Louis Van Gaal, his countryman has his back.

Southampton boss Ronald Koeman doesn’t like the way Manchester United handled LVG’s fate with the team, firing him within hours of the Red Devils winning the FA Cup.

Like many, Koeman doesn’t buy that the LVG to Jose Mourinho transition happened in a week.

[ MORE: Early and (purposefully) absurd 2016-17 PL predictions ]

Given the gossip mill since Chelsea fired Mourinho in January, that’s not a hard thing to buy, and Koeman is angry that LVG was kept out of the loop. Reports claim that Van Gaal had drawn-up plans for 2016-17 with him on the day he was let go.

From Sky Sports:

“If Louis was not told about getting the sack until after the FA Cup final, then Manchester United as a club don’t deserve a medal for the way they treated him.

“If you know a little bit about the business at the highest level in football, then you know that these kind of deals are not done overnight.”

Koeman hedges his words with conditionals, but there’s little doubt what he means. Managers generally stand together when it comes to dismissals, but it’s nice to see someone stand up for LVG’s treatment (whether he deserved to be canned or not).