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

Leave a comment
  • 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.

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.