What we learned from Borussia Dortmund’s Champions League romp past Zenit

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  • Marco Reus, Robert Lewandowski remain a pleasure to watch

Among the most regrettable things about Lewandowski’s impending move to Bayern Munich is his separation from Reus, who only joined Borussia Dortmund last season. Even then, with so much focus was placed on the now departed Mario Götze, we didn’t get a chance to appreciate how beautifully these two starts complement each other.

On Tuesday, however, playing in an early game that gave Dortmund center stage, Reus and Lewandowski stole the show. Reus played the major part in the team’s first two goals, his dash beyond Cristian Ansaldi setting up the first while a clinical volley doubled BVB’s lead a minute later. All the while, Lewandowski was maintaining a threat that occupied both central defenders, giving Zenit’s Argentine left back little help with one of the best attacking midfielders in the world.

In the second half, it was Lewandowski’s turn, with his nearly unmatched movement along the line creating the openings that produced Dortmund’s third and fourth goals. On BVB’s final tally, Reus carried the ball until the Zenit defense was forced to engage him before laying off to for Lewandowski. The Poland international proceeded to beat Yuri Lodygin far post to restore Dortmund’s two-goal lead.

The goal highlighted the sense Lewandowski uses to take advantage of a threat like Reus’s, just as the game’s first goal showed how Reus can exploit his speed and technique to beat a left back while a left-center half is occupied by Lewandowski. It’s the same threat that’s existed since Reus was bought from Borussia Mönchengladbach in 2012, but against Zenit, that threat helped defined the game.

Lewandowski leaves for Bayern in less than four months. One day, Reus may also make the step up to a club that can pay Bayern-eque wages. But for this two-year span, we’ve been able to enjoy a pair with a rarely seen set of elite, complementary skills. The result helped produce four road goals in Champions League on Tuesday.

(MORE: Borussia Dortmund punish slack Zenit Saint Petersburg in 4-2 Champions League win)

  • source: APLuciano Spalletti’s era has run its course in St. Petersburg

Zenit stumbled to second in last year’s Russian Liga, and before the circuit went on its break in December, the league’s most affluent club had been pulled back by Lokomotiv at the top of the table. Where Zenit’s spending at one time threatened to separate the St. Petersburg club from the rest of their league, now it provides the fuel for unfulfilled expectations. Zenit was supposed to be beyond this, by now.

Tuesday represented Luciano Spalletti’s latest chance to transcend that disappointment, but after seeing his team give up two goals in the first five minutes, the former Roma boss will feel more heat on his job with Zenit. Even when his team was able to reduce two-goal leads to one in the 57th and 69th minutes, Dortmund was able to quickly restore their margin, portraying a confidence Zenit was never able to dissuade. For all of the skill players like Hulk and Axel Witsel bring to the field, Spalletti’s been unable to craft a team that has met Zenit’s goals.

The question is how long this will be allowed to persist. Perhaps they can reverse their deficit to Dortmund or hold of Loko in Russia, but that would also involve overcoming growing doubts. Entering his fourth year with Russia’s premier club, Spalletti’s time to take Zenit to the next level may be running out.

  • Borussia Dortmund impressive, but clearly flawed

Mats Hummels didn’t play, and Neven Subotic is out for the season. Jürgen Klopp’s team has its excuses for conceding twice. Still, BVB remains a team whose strength rests in its abilities going forward – whose best defensive displays often coincide with a want to sit back and use its attacking threat on the counter. While the mistakes that led to today’s goals are less frequent when BVB’s lead defenders are healthy, they’re also not unheard of.

All of which is a minor quibble in a BVB armor that’s hammered out most of the chinks. Despite the absences of Jakub Blaszczykowski, Ilkay Gündogen, Sven Bender, Hummels and Subotic, Dortmund had a relatively easy time of it on the road in a Champions League knockout round. Even the two goals they gave up had a disputed elements to them.

But for a team that went to last year’s final, you can’t help but image them against other finals-caliber competition. In that sense, Tuesday’s performance may not have been good enough, even though they did score four goals in St. Petersburg.

Then again, Dortmund were almost eliminated by Málaga in last year’s quarterfinals before going on to trounce Real Madrid in the semis. A hiccup at this stage does not preclude success further town the road.

Pochettino trolling? “You got the feeling that Chelsea were a small team”

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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur huffed and puffed at White Hart Lane on Sunday but never really got going as they settled for a point at White Hart Lane.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Harry Kane forced Asmir Begovic into two good saves in the first half and Song Hueng-min should’ve scored in the second half with a header but even after after a grueling 5,000-mile round trip to Azerbaijan on Thursday night for Europa League action which saw them arrive back in England at 6 a.m. local time Friday, manager Mauricio Pochettino wasn’t pleased his team didn’t win to move into the top four.

“No, not really happy. We deserved more than we got, so I was disappointed, but it’s true that I’m proud of the players. For me they’re big heroes,” Pochettino told ProSoccerTalk. “The effort was massive. Chelsea played one of their best games of the season, and when you make the effort we showed and the maturity, you have to be happy with your players but disappointed with one point.”

[ MORE: Mourinho calls benched Costa “privileged” ]

With Spurs now stretching their unbeaten run to 13 games this season — their one and only defeat in 2015-16 came on the opening day of the season, 1-0 at Manchester United — Pochettino was asked if his side, who sit five points off the top, should be pleased that a draw against Chelsea felt like two points dropped.

The Argentine coach then released his inner Jose Mourinho — the pair have a close relationship and before Poch came to coach in England he spoke at length to Mourinho — dishing out a backhanded compliment to the master of the backhanded compliment.

“This is a good thing. We play the champions. It’s good. You got the feeling that Chelsea were a small team and Tottenham can win every game we play,” Pochettino said. “It’s very difficult, though. Not easy. We’re the youngest team in the PL and the maturity we showed today we have shown in different games. We have to feel happy. It’s a good thing that, maybe, we are a bigger club than Chelsea or that we deserve more. We showed good performances in the last few games, and I’m happy, but we have to keep working hard. We’ve only had 14 games in the PL and it’s too early to think about the end of the season.”

Whether or not those comments were lost in translation from a man who is still getting used to English as his second language, Pochettino clearly felt Spurs deserved more than the point they got and it’s apparent from the differing predicaments both teams find themselves in that Spurs have more chance of winning the title and finishing in the top four than Chelsea this season.

Watch Live: Liverpool vs. Swansea City (Lineups, Live Stream)

SWANSEA, WALES - MARCH 16:  Kyle Naughton of Swansea City is closed down by Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at Liberty Stadium on March 16, 2015 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
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Struggling Swansea City has quite a task with its visit to high-flying Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Swansea has plenty of experience on the bench, and will start Eder and Kyle Bartley.

Daniel Sturridge is again on the bench for Liverpool, while Christian Benteke starts up top for the Reds.



Liverpool: Mignolet, Clyne, Skrtel, Lovren, Moreno, Can, Milner, Lallana, Ibe, Firmino, Benteke. Subs: Bogdan, Toure, Henderson, Sturridge, Allen, Origi, Randall.

Swansea City: Fabianski, Naughton, Bartley, Williams (c), Taylor, Britton, Ki Sung-Yueng, Sigurdsson, Routledge, Ayew, Éder. Subs: Nordfeldt, Rangel, Fernandez, Cork, Grimes, Montero, Gomis.

Watch Live: Norwich City vs. Arsenal (Lineups, Live Stream)

NORWICH, ENGLAND - MAY 11:  Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal and Johan Elmander of Norwich City compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on May 11, 2014 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images
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Norwich City faces a third UEFA Champions League side in four matches when Arsenal visits Carrow Road on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET online via Live Extra).

Arsenal starts Mathieu Flamini in place of the injured Francis Coquelin, and Olivier Giroud is again up top.

As for the home side, there’s a lot of offense on the bench including Nathan Redmond.



Norwich City: Ruddy; Wisdom, Bennett, Bassong, Olsson; Howson, Dorrans, O’Neil (c), Brady; Hoolahan; Grabban. Subs: Rudd (GK), Martin, Mbokani, Jerome, Mulumbu, Redmond, Odjidja.

Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Cazorla, Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud. Subs: Ospina, Debuchy, Gabriel, Chambers, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Reine-Adelaide, Campbell.

Mourinho on benching Costa: “He is very privileged”

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LONDON — Jose Mourinho defended his decision to leave Diego Costa on the bench on Sunday for Chelsea’s 0-0 draw at Tottenham Hotspur, calling the Spanish international “privileged” for keeping his spot in the Chelsea lineup this long.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Costa, 27, has scored just four goals in 17 appearances for Chelsea this season and in their midweek win at Maccabi Tel-Aviv he and Mourinho had a clear misunderstanding in the first half which saw words exchanged.

Since then, reports have claimed that Mourinho is trying to bring in a new striker in January and his benching of Costa on Sunday will add further fuel to the fire.

“Diego is very privileged because he was the last one to be on the bench,” Mourinho said. “Everyone else has been: the captain; Ivanovic, Cahill, the vice-captain of England; Fabregas; Pedro; Hazard, player of the season; Oscar; everyone was on the bench. Diego was privileged because I kept him in the team for all these matches. Today we thought the best strategy was this one. We are happy with the decision and the players. If we had won 1-0, our performance would have been considered tremendous. You will still say it was good.”

Chelsea’s boss was pushed further about Diego’s state of mind as he reportedly failed to put his boots on when warming up and then threw his warm-up bib (see the video above) in the direction of Mourinho.

“Physically he is fine. No problems. He is working well every day. His mood is positive. He’s always a positive guy in the team,” Mourinho said. “I was not expecting to have a player on the bench jumping and singing because he is not playing, unless you’re a kid who has a chance to go on the bench – Ruben, Kenedy, feel that is one more step. But for a top player, they’re not happy. His behavior was normal. He was ready to play when he went to warm up. When I decided not to play him, he went. And probably he is eating while waiting for us in the bus.”

“If he wants to hurt me, it’s not with a bib. I have a good relationship with him, no problem”

Mourinho may not feel like he has a problem right now with Costa because Eden Hazard led the line superbly in a false-nine formation.

With Loic Remy missing due to the birth of his child on Saturday, Mourinho decided to replace Costa with the diminutive Belgian and he dazzled Spurs’ backline with several intelligent runs and had Chelsea’s best two chances as he headed over in the first half and then forced Hugo Lloris into a superb stop in the second half from a controlled volley.

Costa’s benching has been coming, and although he seemed to handle it poorly on the sidelines, it’s clear that he must now shape up or Chelsea will move on without him.

“If Costa watched the game with some attention from the bench he will  know what is needed from him,” Mourinho said, ominously.